How Will Rory McIlroy Respond Following Brutal U.S. Open Finish?

min read
Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, reacts on the 15th hole during the final round of the U.S. Open golf tournament Sunday, June 16, 2024, in Pinehurst, N.C.
(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Jason Sobel @JasonSobelGolf Jul 10, 2024, 12:54 PM

When we last saw Rory McIlroy, he was hightailing it out of the U.S. Open past champions’ parking lot at Pinehurst, just a few hundred yards from the course’s final green, which minutes earlier had been the site of his latest, if not greatest, major championship heartbreak.

The fact that missing putts from 30 and 45 inches on two of the last three holes to lose by a stroke during what’s become a decade-long major drought merely put that finish in contention on his list of personal torment is not insignificant. Nor is the idea that on those previous occasions, he often bounced back in his very next appearance.

McIlroy returns to competition as the defending champion and odds-on favorite (+800) at this week’s Genesis Scottish Open, following a three-week stretch when he didn’t speak with media after that defeat, withdrew from the next week’s Travelers Championship and stayed out of the spotlight until landing on European soil.

“The way I’ve described Pinehurst on Sunday was like it was a great day until it wasn’t,” he said Wednesday in his first public comments since that final round. “It was a tough few days after that, obviously. But I think as you get further away from it happening, you start to see the positives and you start to see all the good things that you did throughout the week.”

Before we move forward and dive into McIlroy’s prospects for this week, allow me to look back at those actions which were the subject of so much post-U.S. Open rhetoric and debate.

I’m admittedly biased when it comes to players speaking with the media. As someone who covers the game, it’s my job to convey the thoughts and feelings of the main protagonists to the general public as part of a broader storytelling process. That said, I’m also human and can easily understand an anguished player choosing to eschew this in the moment. Or in any moment, really. Brooks Koepka skipped his interview session after the opening round that week, and it was hardly a big deal.

It can be argued that his unseemlier post-round shortcoming was failing to shake hands with winner Bryson DeChambeau, a move which – due to the PGA Tour/LIV undertones – might’ve counted for a bit more than the usual sportsmanlike gesture.

But sure, any player can be excused from courtesies, except perhaps McIlroy, who spent time with a few of us reporters after a press conference at Pebble Beach earlier this year, during which he spoke about attending an F1 race and seeing how many more interviews they conduct and autographs they sign and babies they kiss. As a leader — self-assigned or not — of the PGA Tour, he felt it was his duty to try and bring this model to his sport, which suggests more than a touch of irony, especially when contrasted with DeChambeau’s willingness to do all of those things in both victory and defeat recently.

Really, though, the bigger issue might’ve been his Travelers withdrawal. Rory is part of an elite-player group which had spearheaded the idea that the game’s best need to be competing against each other on a more regular basis. The powers-that-be bought into the idea and made it happen. To skip a limited-field tournament after fighting for more limited-field tournaments isn’t some moral transgression, but it’s not exactly the best look, either. 

In any case, he’s now set to compete for the first time in 25 days, with the prevailing opinion that his latest despair is going to sit with him a while, festering inside before building up more scar tissue.

History, however, suggests that might not be the case.

Way back in 2011, when Rory entered the back-nine on Masters Sunday with a lead, only to find cabins with a hooked tee shot and finish in a share of 15th place, he followed the next week with a solo third-place finish in Malaysia and won the U.S. Open two months later.

In 2019, in his home country of Northern Ireland, McIlroy hit his opening tee shot out of bounds on his way to missing the cut, then posted a pair of top-six finishes in his next two starts and claimed the FedEx Cup title a month later.

And in 2022, when he woulda/coulda/shoulda won The Open at St. Andrews, he again followed with a FedEx Cup trophy the next month.

All of which suggests that his next success might not be immediate, but it is lurking, perhaps ready to be unveiled as soon as next week at yet another Open Championship.

“It’s just another opportunity,” he said of that potential. “I’m playing great golf and it’s another opportunity to see how I can hopefully handle it better than I handled it a few weeks ago.”

The masses often view close calls and near-misses as negatives to a golfer’s psyche and impending record, as if those past performances are predictors of future results. Players, though, widely see such experiences as positives, even if they have to endure a little heartache to get through them.

McIlroy has already won three times globally this year (including a team effort with Shane Lowry at the Zurich Classic). He’s finished top-25 in 12 of his last 13 starts. He’s gained strokes off the tee and with his irons in his last eight, and with his wedges and putter in seven of those.

In every sense of the terminology, he’s trending in the right direction, other than two short putts which cost him a fifth career major title.

If he’d never been through a scenario such as this one previously, it might be more logical to believe he’ll fail to come back from it soon. This is just another bump in the road, though, for a player who’s endured plenty of ‘em.

And he sounds like he’s ready for that next big test.

“Hopefully,” he said, “when I get that next opportunity, it won’t pass me by.”

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About the Author

Jason Sobel

Read More @JasonSobelGolf

Jason Sobel is a Brand Ambassador for BetMGM. He joins after six years with Action Network. Prior to Action, Jason spent a total of 17 years in two stints at ESPN (1997-2011; 2015-18) and four years at Golf Channel (2011-15). He also currently works as a host for "Hitting the Green" on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio and contributes to the channel's on-site coverage during major championships. He's won four Sports Emmy awards, more than a dozen Golf Writers Association of America accolades and has earned an honorable mention in the Best of American Sportswriting series.

Jason Sobel is a Brand Ambassador for BetMGM. He joins after six years with Action Network. Prior to Action, Jason spent a total of 17 years in two stints at ESPN (1997-2011; 2015-18) and four years at Golf Channel (2011-15). He also currently works as a host for "Hitting the Green" on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio and contributes to the channel's on-site coverage during major championships. He's won four Sports Emmy awards, more than a dozen Golf Writers Association of America accolades and has earned an honorable mention in the Best of American Sportswriting series.