Rory McIlroy grinds on US Open day where par saves proved as important as any birdie

Of the examination presented by Pinehurst, McIlroy observed: ‘It just requires more thought’

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot on the 18th hole. Photograph: Gregory Shamus/Getty

The volunteer spotter on the par 3 17th hole was eagle-eyed, ready with flags – if required – to pin into the native area with its gnarly wire grass and other varieties of vegetation that players would rather avoid.

Andrew knew is golf, too: he’d just returned home from a bucket list trip to Ireland where he’d been part of a team that won the international team event in the Donegal Links Classic (playing Ballyliffin, Rosapenna and Portsalon) and is already signed up for voluntary duties at next year’s US Open in Oakmont.

Anyway, there was no need for flag planting when it came Rory McIlroy’s turn to play. His tee-shot sailed over the flag and settled 30 feet above the hole. “This’ll be interesting,” whispered the spotter, who was proved right when McIlroy’s gently hit putt gathered pace and sailed by the hole. The ball rolled, and rolled, and kept on rolling until it was off the front of the green.

To the point where McIlroy and caddie Harry Diamond exchanged clubs, as the putter went back in the bag and player took a wedge. It’s an area of his game which has been sharp of late, and McIlroy didn’t disappoint those in the stands as he chipped-in to save par.


It was that sort of day, where unimaginable par saves proved as important as any birdie.

McIlroy, in fact, showcased that part of his game – and, if you will, a conservative mindset – in a round that ultimately finished with him signing for a 72 to add to his opening 65 to reach the midpoint on three-under-par 137, right in the mix.

That chip-in par save was not a once off, either. On the par 5 fifth, the 14th of his round, the spotter only required one red flag for McIlroy, Xander Schauffele and Scottie Scheffler who all made the same mistake of hitting the green on the left and seeing their balls run into the native area to finish in a wagon wheel circle of each other.

“Pretty treacherous,” is how McIlroy described the back left pin location on five. “If you miss it left there at all! Obviously you saw what Xander and Scottie did. After seeing their two attempts, I was pretty happy with mine just to get it over the other side of the green and get it up-and-down for five.”

Going third helped, and proved the difference in the outcomes. Scheffler saw his first effort hit the bank and return back down to him. Schauffele’s was punched through the green to the run-off on the opposite side. The difference was that McIlroy managed to salvage par while both world number one Scheffler and world number two Schauffele ran up double-bogey sixes.

“I felt like I did a pretty good job at keeping some of the mistakes off the scorecard. I wish I had converted a couple more of the chances but I hit the ball pretty well. I wasn’t quite as good with the putter today but, overall, I’m in a great position going into the weekend,” said McIlroy, who only missed one fairway – on the 18th, his ninth hole of the round – in an impressive display with driver and irons off the tee.

Of the examination presented by the course, McIlroy observed: “It just requires more thought.”

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland waves after putting on the eighth green. Photograph: Gregory Shamus/Getty

He gave an example. On the eighth hole, he had 151 yards adjusted to the hole. “I’m trying to land it 146. I can’t land it 144 because it’s not going to get up there. I can’t land it 148 because it’s going to go over the back of the green. You just need to have a lot of precision. I feel for the most part I’ve done that well.

“I’ve got the ball pin-high quite a lot, which is really important. I’m not trying to land the ball pin-high. You’re trying to hit it to a number with a wedge, maybe five short of that, and then with a mid-iron you’re trying to land it 30 feet short of the pin to try to get it pin-high. It requires just a little more thought, a little more consideration to everything that you’re doing,” he explained.

And that conservative gameplan will remain for the weekend ahead, as McIlroy goes in quest of a fifth career Major. But he had no intentions of watching television featuring earlier starters.

“I don’t like seeing where other guys are hitting it. I particularly don’t like when I can watch people hit putts on greens because then, whenever I have a similar putt on the golf course, I’m going off the memory of what I think I saw on TV instead of seeing it with my own eyes. I’d rather just not have that option at all,” he explained.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times