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near miss Rory McIlroy falls short at US Open after another final round of near misses

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Rory McIlroy plays his shot from the second tee during the final round of the US Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego

Rory McIlroy plays his shot from the second tee during the final round of the US Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego

Rory McIlroy plays his shot from the second tee during the final round of the US Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego

Spain’s Jon Rahm produced one of the great final round performances to win the US Open at Torrey Pines and replace Dustin Johnson as world No 1 as Rory McIlroy saw his Major drought extended to 2,441 days.

Twice a Dubai Duty Free Irish Open champion, the 26-year-old came from three shots behind Louis Oosthuizen, Russell Henley and Mackenzie Hughes overnight, curling in a brace of left to right birdie putts on the last two greens — a 26-footer at the 17th and an 18 footer at the last — to card a four-under-par 67 on a demolition derby final day to win by a shot from South African Oosthuizen, who birdied the last for a 71, on six-under-par.

After being denied the chance to retain his title at the Memorial Tournament by a positive Covid-19 test when six strokes clear heading into the final day, the bull-like Basque had the golfing gods on this side this time.

As McIlroy closed with a disappointing two-over 73, limping home in 39 to finish in a six-way tie for seventh on one-under, Rahm birdied the first two holes, then overcame a bogey at the fourth with an outrageous birdie at the ninth, where marshals mistakenly signalled he’d driven out of bounds.

He was within a shot of the lead heading down the back nine and hardly put a foot wrong under pressure, missing just one green in regulation before launching two monumental fist pumps as he feathered those two closing birdie putts into the cup to prove that golf is more than just a power game.

It was another case of what might have been for the popular Oosthuizen (38) and his Dublin caddie Colin Byrne, as he clocked up his sixth runner-up finish in a Major and his second in a row after Phil Mickelson denied him and Brooks Koepka in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.

After Rahm’s finish, he needed a birdie to force a playoff but after making clutch par putts between three and eight feet at the 14th, 15th and 16th, he drove into the barranca at the 17th and missed an eight footer for par.

He had eagled the last on Saturday to snatch a share of the 54-hole lead but sitting in the first cut of rough, 247 yards from the hole, he opted to lay up but could not hole out from 69 yards for eagle and eventually made birdie for another disappointing close call.

As for McIlroy, it was a case of what might have been as he was understandably found wanting on the back nine when contending in a major for the first time in three years.

After starting the day just two strokes behind the leaders, tied for fourth with Bryson DeChambeau, he had to scramble for par at the first, then shrugged off a missed chance from eight feet at the second with a birdie at the fourth where he got a friendly bounce and made a slick, left to right breaking 36-footer .

He was soon tied for the lead on four-under-par but the drama was only beginning.

"Overall, it's been a positive week. I gave myself a great chance (on Sunday). Even through ten holes, I was right in the thick of things. It was really two holes that basically stopped the sort of run at the title," said McIlroy, the World No.11.

"I played well. I felt comfortable with what I was doing out there. I felt like tee to green I was really solid for the first few holes, but once I made those little mistakes on 11 and 12, I felt like I was just chasing a little bit, and then ultimately couldn't really get anything done from there.

"But overall it's been a good week. I put up a good fight. I started the round well today. With the three-putt on 11, that sort of stopped the momentum, and then I got a little unlucky on 12 and made double from there. Take those two holes out, the rest of the week was really good.

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"I have to take the positives from this week. Yes, it is disappointing that I had a chance and didn't get the job done but, considering where I've been the previous few Majors, it's a big step in the right direction."

DeChambeau almost aced the eighth to take the lead on five-under, leaving him one clear of McIlroy, Oosthuizen and Collin Morikawa, who would fade on the back nine and finish tied fourth with Italy’s Guidi Migliozzi (68) and Koepka (69) on four-under.

The leaderboard soon began to click over with the regularity of an airport flight board as the South Course began to take its toll.

Harris English shot 68 to set the target at three-under, eventually finishing third as Koepka, who was four-under with three to play, failed to get up and down from sand at the 16th, then took six at the 18th and shot 69.

“All in all, I didn't really have my stuff,” said Koepka, who refused to blame the golf course for his finish. “I love this golf course. It's fun to play. I think it's perfect for a major championship.

“The way it sets up, you've got to be able to put the ball in the fairway, control your irons, and you've really got to putt well out here. That's kind of the basis of a major championship. You need to be able to do everything really well. I think this course is perfect for that.”

Oosthuizen birdied the ninth and 10th to take the lead on six-under, but while McIlroy saved a clutch par from eight feet at the 10th, his title charge faded in the space of two holes.

A solid tee shot to the heart of the par-three 11th left him a 33-footer for birdie. But he three-putted for bogey, missing a five footer, then ran up a double-bogey six at the 12th .

Unlucky to plug on the downslope of a bunker with his approach, he shanked his third straight right into rough up the grassy slope above another sand trap, eventually missing from seven feet for bogey.

The double-bogey saw him fall out of the top 10, four shots off the lead on one-under.

But while he bounced back immediately, hitting a 273-yard fairway wood to the heart of the 13th where he shaved the hole with a 35-footer to get back to two-under, he had no answer to Rahm’s finish.

Bunkered at the 16th, he dropped another shot there, then failed to make a curling seven-footer for birdie at the 17th or a nine-footer at the 18th.

"You know, I think I said it yesterday in an interview,” Rahm said. "I'm a big believer in karma, and after what happened a couple weeks ago I stayed really positive knowing good things were coming.

"I didn't know what it was going to be, but I knew we were coming to a special place, I knew I got breakthrough win here and it's a very special place for my family, and the fact that my parents were able to come, I got out of COVID protocol early, I just felt like the stars were aligning, and I knew my best golf was to come.

"I have a hard time explaining what just happened because I can't even believe I made the last two putts, and I'm the first Spaniard ever to win a US Open.

"This was definitely for Seve. I know he tried a lot, and usually we think a lot about him at the Masters, but I know he wanted to win this one most of all. I just don't know how to explain it.”

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