‘I’m in a good place’ – Rory McIlroy shows bullet-proof resistance to remain in US Open contention
Rory McIlroy flirted with total disaster but recovered from one of the best double-bogeys of his career en route to a super 69 that left him just a shot behind leaders Collin Morikawa and Joel Dahmen in the US Open at Brookline.
Reigning Open champion Morikawa, the 2020 PGA champion, made five birdies in a four-under 66 to set the clubhouse target at five-under-par in his quest for the third leg of the career grand slam before being joined at the top by qualifier Dahmen, who shot 68.
They lead by a shot from defending champion Jon Rahm (67), qualifier Hayden Buckley from Mississippi (68), Aaron Wise (68) and Beau Hossler (67) with McIlroy rolling in birdie putts on the 12th, 14th and 16th to join the chasers on four-under-par.
“Yeah, after 36 holes in a major championship, that's all you want to do is put yourself right in the mix going into the weekend,” McIlroy said. “For a little part of the day there, it seemed like I was going to be a few more behind, but I dug deep and played the last eight holes really, really well.
“That was the goal. After I bogeyed 10, I just wanted to try to shoot under par. I had some chances coming up. Just played a really clean eight holes, which was pleasing. Hit fairways, hit greens, gave myself chances. Got myself right back in the tournament.”
Bidding for his first major win for eight years, the four-time major champion flirted with a potential tournament wrecking disaster at the 496-yard third when he sliced his approach into deep fescue and needed three hacks to get the ball on the green.
He left himself a 30-footer for a double-bogey and rolled it in for a six that felt like a birdie.
He then used his power to make a birdie at the 305-yard fifth, driving within 30 feet of the hole.
The world number three would hand that shot back with a three-putt bogey at the 165-yard sixth, where he hit his first putt 10 feet past.
But while he showed resilience with a chip-and-putt birdie at the par-five eighth and turned in one-over 36, he immediately dropped a shot at the difficult, 504-yard, par-four 10th.
The putter has been McIlroy’s friend this week, however, and he rolled in a 30-footer for birdie at the 12th to get back to two-under for the tournament and finished strongly.
The Holywood star has power to spare and he made it count at the 616-yard 14th, which he reduced to a 350-yard drive and a 260-yard long-iron to 60 feet followed by a magnificently judged lag putt to a few inches.
Back to level for the day, three-under for the championship, McIlroy was back into a tie for third place.
He burned the edge from 20 feet at the 15th, catching the lip but rolled in an eight-footer for par at the short 16th, then knocked in a 10-footer for another birdie at the 17th to get into the red for the day.
He had a birdie chance at the last but after running if five feet by, he made the return putt to complete a wonderful display of course management, patience and never-say-die attitude.
On that double bogey, he could only smile.
“Yeah, you don't want to try to be making 30-footers for sixes,” he conceded. “But I got it in in the least amount of strokes possible on that hole after what happened.
“Yeah, I made two bad swings today. I made a bad swing on the second shot on 3, and I made a bad swing on the tee shot on 10 and limited the damage as much as I could. Those two holes cost me three shots.
“But I stayed patient, and I knew I was going to give myself chances if I just hit the ball the way I have been hitting it. Today was a really good example of just having a good attitude.
“I mean, you're only two-over for the day. It wasn't disastrous. I knew I had the fifth hole coming up, the short par-4 coming up, and then I had the 8th hole, which is playing a very short par-5 today. I knew I had a couple of chances to get it back to even par, and then I three-putted six.
“I knew I was going to have chances, so I didn't panic. I didn't do anything stupid. I didn't force anything. I was rewarded with that patience by playing a really good back nine.”
While he has four majors on his CV, McIlroy knows his record means little bar more experience and doesn’t expect anyone to give him anything.
He is going to have to take it.
“I think I have to go out with the mindset this week that I'm going to try to win my first again,” he said. “I'm playing as good a golf as I've played in a long time. I have a lot of experience. Yes, I've won major championships and other big events, but I don't think – just because I've done that, it doesn't mean that I'll hit better golf shots or I'll hit better putts.
“I'm in a good place. I'm really happy with where my game is at, and I think that's the most important thing.
Prepared to wait for his moments and ride out the inevitable challenges, he added: “I think I ride waves of momentum pretty easily. Certainly whenever you get on the crest of a wave and you try to ride it as long as you can, and I've gotten a little bit better at trying not to ride the other ones downwardly.
“I think there's a nice flow to this golf course that you can get on a little bit of a run and start to make some birdies, and if I do encounter that this week, I feel like I'm pretty good at riding those sort of waves of momentum through the course of a round.”
Séamus Power is tied for 31st, six shots off the lead on one-over and will partner PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas at 5.55pm Irish time.
McIlroy goes out in the third last group with Aaron Wise at 8.23 pm but Shane Lowry can look forward to the Horizon Irish Open in two weeks after a pair of 72s left him a shot outside the cut line on four-over.
The Offaly man had the longest active streak of cuts made at 12 but after a poor putting week, he must start again in The 150th Open at St Andrews next month.
World number one and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler is just two behind Dahmen and Morikawa on three-under after a 67 alongside qualifier Nick Hardy (68), Australia’s Matthew NeSmith (69) and Patrick Rodgers (68).
England’s Matt Fitzpatrick (70), American Sam Burns (70) and first round leader, Canadian Adam Hadwin (72) were just four-behind on one-under.
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