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Speed of Rory McIlroy’s departure from US Open indicative of new wounds added to old scar tissue

Late collapse at Pinehurst led to a mix of sympathy and disbelief for the Irish golfer, who has said he will take a ‘few weeks’ away from the game

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland is consoled by his caddie Harry Diamond after making a bogey. Photograph: Sean M. Haffey/Getty

The noise from the 18th green at Pinehurst No 2 was loud and raucous and drifted its way over the temporary fencing to the car park reserved for past champions just yards away. In one of those spots was a sign, simple and straightforward: “US Open Champion Rory McIlroy 2011″ is how it read.

Except, the space in front was empty. There would be no 2024 added for future years, and certainly not for Oakmont’s staging next year. Those additional digits were headed to someone else, to Bryson DeChambeau.

And the speed of McIlroy’s departure following his late collapse in the 124th edition of the old championship, doing his bit in handing the trophy to DeChambeau, was indicative of the new wounds to be added to old scar tissue.

McIlroy’s rush away, his Lexus promptly packed with clubs and baggage before any of the formalities, for a swift departure to his Lear jet in nearby Moore County airfield, and onwards home to Florida, was speedy and at odds with the funereal mood. Nobody had died but it felt that way, a mix of sympathy and disbelief working its way to a player still in his own world.


On this occasion, McIlroy – the loss clearly too raw – chose not to speak to anyone afterwards. Not to print. Not to radio. Not to TV. Perhaps reasoning what was there to say? Perhaps deciding that it was too soon for a postmortem? Perhaps, simply just not wanting to talk at all.

What didn’t need saying at all was that McIlroy – once again – had come up short in a major championship; 10 years of hurt and angst with no redemption to heal old wounds and the scar tissue spreading wider and deeper.

McIlroy is too good a player for him not to have further chances to win majors, with next month’s 152nd Open at Royal Troon next up.

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

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts to his tee shot on the 15th hole at Pinehurst. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty

But the tale since his last win, in the 2014 US PGA at Valhalla, has extended far beyond what anyone expected. There is, of course, still the opportunity to add more majors to his CV and to achieve the career goal of passing Seve Ballesteros (5) and Nick Faldo (6) on the modern day list of Europe’s most successful player in majors. Or not.

Faldo, indeed, was one of those who felt his latest loss would delve into McIlroy’s psyche and stay there. “That’s going to haunt Rory for the rest of his life,” he said.

What we have seen from McIlroy in the past is an ability to get over final round collapses, most notably bouncing back from his 2011 Masters travails at Augusta National to claim a breakthrough major title with his success in the US Open at Congressional just two months later. In between, incidentally, McIlroy had made a humanitarian trip to Haiti in his role as a UN ambassador, where he’d gotten perspective on life matters.

That was then, 13 years ago. The three other majors he added in jig time – in the 2012 US PGA, the 2014 British Open and the 2014 US PGA – have been followed by a barren spell, a winless drought that has extended to a decade. McIlroy’s appearance in Pinehurst was his 37th since lifting the Wannamaker Trophy, his fourth runner-up finish in that time, and his 21st top-10.

Bryson DeChambeau of the United States poses with the trophy after winning the US Open at Pinehurst. Photograph: Gregory Shamus/Getty

If those statistics demonstrate how he has been knocking on the door all those years, there is no doubt that he opened the door himself in the final round on Sunday – starting out three shots behind DeChambeau and moving two strokes ahead with five holes to play – only to slam it shut with those missed short putts on 16 and 18.

Paul McGinley – who was in Pinehurst in his broadcasting roles with Sky and the Golf Channel – claimed it had come down to a “drop in focus” from McIlroy when it mattered most as he headed down the stretch.

“Through 13 holes, he was on it. He was exactly where you wanted to be. And that element of doubt came in. He started second-guessing himself. He started backing off shots, which he never does. He started having an extra couple of looks down the fairway before he took the club back. He started having an extra little bit of time over the putts, which he never does. That’s pressure. And he succumbed to it,” said McGinley.

We don’t know for sure, because of his decision not to speak afterwards, but it is most likely that McIlroy knew all of that. He didn’t need anyone to tell him. He knew, this was the big fish that was caught and was allowed to slip away.

Late on Monday night McIlroy withdrew from this week’s Travelers Championship in Hartford, Connecticut, one of the PGA Tour’s signature events with a $20 million purse.

“Yesterday was a tough day, probably the toughest I’ve had in my 17 years as a professional golfer,” he wrote in a social media post. “As I reflect on my week, I’ll rue a few things over the course of the tournament, mostly the missed putts on 16 and 18 on the final day,” he added.

“But, as I always try to do, I’ll look at the positives of the week that far outweigh the negatives.”

Despite the gut-wrenching loss, McIlroy, who also finished one stroke adrift of the winner at last year’s US Open, said he feels closer than ever to ending a major drought that stretches back to the PGA Championship in August 2014.

“The one word that I would describe my career as is ‘resilient’,” he said.

“I’ve shown my resilience over and over again in the last 17 years and I will again,” he said.

“I’m going to take a few weeks away from the game to process everything and build myself back up for my defence of the Genesis Scottish Open and The Open and Royal Troon.

“See you in Scotland.”

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times