US Open takeaways: How an event in January foreshadowed Rory McIlroy’s finish

Rory’s terrible luck on fifth hole; McIlroy and Adam Scott comparisons; DeChambeau the content king; McKibbin’s solid finish

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts after missing a par putt on the 18th hole. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty
Foreshadowing of McIlroy’s final day from first tournament of the year

If you see sport like a movie, two moments from the opening tournament of the year for Rory McIlroy were ominous foreshadowing of what was to unfortunately transpire at the US Open on Sunday. At the Dubai Invitational in January, McIlroy went head-to-head with Tommy Fleetwood and on the 14th hole of his final round, he managed to miss a tiny putt for birdie – DP World Tour social media said two feet, the website said four feet – and miss the return putt for an inexplicable three-putt. He recovered with birdies to retake the lead but on the 18th hole he made a questionable decision to take out driver when a fairway wood would have been enough – ring any bells? – pulled it left and bogeyed to lose by one.

To show the difference in the stakes though, the Northern Irishman was delighted for his friend Fleetwood and was pictured laughing and hugging him after he lost. This time McIlroy bolted from Pinehurst within minutes of Bryson DeChambeau holing the winning putt, a flight track monitor on Twitter/X showed his jet had already left North Carolina for Florida only 53 minutes after the conclusion of play. A tough pill to swallow.

Rory’s bad luck on the fifth hole

McIlroy can only have himself to blame with how he finished the tournament, the two short putts missed on 16 and 18, and there were some poor shot selections down the stretch, but he also suffered some horribly bad luck on the fifth hole. The 35-year-old hit a perfect drive and a great second shot to what looked like the middle of the green and an eagle chance, before the ball suffered the fate of Pinehurst’s devilish false fronts and rolled off the green. Even if it had rolled into the bunker or anywhere else in the waste area, then McIlroy had a birdie in mind, a par at worst. But the ball rolled right behind a clump of grass that left an almost impossible chip. He walked away with a bogey on a birdie hole, the difference between winning and losing.

Malachy Clerkin: Rory McIlroy choked at the US Open and he has nobody to blame but himselfOpens in new window ]

DeChambeau the ‘Content King’ delivers again

DeChambeau is quickly being known as the “Content King” for his many viral moments at majors this year and his rapidly growing YouTube channel. His bunker shot on 18 to win the tournament was a truly exceptional a shot he called the “best of his life”. The best content moment though came a few hours later when NBC’s Johnson Wagner, a modest former PGA Tour player who has developed a cult status with golf fans for trying shots played in majors after they have been played on live TV, took on the same bunker shot that DeChambeau did.


Spotting Wagner on the 18th hole, DeChambeau walked over and greeted him, gave him a few tips and then watched on as Wagner outdid his bunker shot, hitting to a couple of feet in the pitch dark. The newly-recently crowned US Open winner handed Wagner the trophy to celebrate the shot, in what was another fun, viral moment of content for his repertoire.

McKibbin matches McIlroy and Woods in his first Major

For Tom McKibbin’s first ever major, he could not have asked for much better than a made cut, a round with world number one Scottie Scheffler and a solid tied 41st finish, considering his lack of experience in playing courses like Pinehurst in the US. He is in good company with a tied 41st finish for a first major, it was also the placing of Tiger Woods’ first one, the 1995 Masters. And quite fitting his Holywood compatriot McIlroy finished tied 42nd in his first major, the 2007 Open that Pádraig Harrington won. Harrington himself finished an impressive tied 18th in his first major, the 1996 Open Championship. Two golfers have won a major on their debut – Ben Curtis at the 2003 Open and Keegan Bradley at the 2011 US PGA Championship – with Ludvig Aberg going close to joining them by finishing second at this year’s Masters.

Green shoots from past examples after McIlroy’s collapse

“Either Bryson lets him off the hook or that’s the going to haunt him for the rest of his life,” said Nick Faldo on Sky Sports commentary about McIlroy. Some might consider it to be unrecoverable scar tissue, but for what happened next after some of golf’s biggest collapses, there are shoots of hope. Adam Scott’s four bogeys to lose the 2012 Open Championship at Lytham had a lot of similarities to McIlroy – both missed a short putt out of nowhere at the 16th that seemed to rattle them, both had a slow bleed quality that was tough to watch. Only two majors later Scott won a Major, the 2013 Masters, and he did so by holing a long putt in a playoff against Angel Cabrera. Dustin Johnson’s way to lose the 2015 US Open may have been even more sour – three putts from 12 feet when even two would have made a playoff – and his response was to win the following year’s US Open by three shots.

If McIlroy never wins another major, despite having won four Majors in his career, this may be the bitter memory he can never forget, with shades of Doug Sanders missing a three-foot putt to win the Open at St Andrews in 1970. “You know, I go back there and sometimes they say ‘Doug, do you ever think about that putt,” Sanders said about that moment. “I say: ‘Oh, sometimes I go as high as five minutes when I ain’t thinking about it’.”

David Gorman

David Gorman

David Gorman is a sports journalist with The Irish Times