Rory McIlroy faces huge challenge to overcome major US Open heartbreak | Ewan Murray

aAmid the grumbling about Rory McIlroy’s abrupt departure from the US Open, it’s worth remembering that a picture is worth 1,000 words. The magnitude of McIlroy’s devastation was so great that it seemed possible he might throw up all over the scoring area where he stood as Bryson DeChambeau cruised to victory at Pinehurst. Anyone wondering how much McIlroy cares about his professional pursuits only needs to look at his face.

Even for those with a loose attachment to his career, the denouement of the 124e US Open was heartbreaking to watch. This was a loss so painful that McIlroy felt unable to express his thoughts to the rest of the world. He should get a pass there; Not only is the Northern Irishman generous with his time in front of the media, it also seems impossible that he could have adequately expressed the heartbreak that had occurred in the past hour. McIlroy also didn’t stick around for the cheesy shaking of DeChambeau’s hand in front of cameras. This is a sportsman who came close to the end of a painful, seemingly endless run and burst. No wonder McIlroy wanted to leave the building as quickly as possible. Golf’s act of friendship is contrived nonsense anyway. McIlroy could have offered DeChambeau platitudes so everyone could say what a great guy he is, but this would be pure emotion.

McIlroy once said he was happy to have ticked the US Open box so early in his career. This was a nod to wild lineups and exams that he didn’t necessarily enjoy. And yet twice in the last two years, this is the great McIlroy who could have won – and certainly in Sunday’s case, should have won. During McIlroy’s major drought, which dates back to the 2014 U.S. PGA Championship, he has not been in pole position multiple times to end it. He hasn’t thrown away one opportunity after another.

McIlroy was second going into the final round of the 2018 Masters. He was moved to tears after falling short at the 2022 Open Championship, finishing one short of Wyndham Clark at the US Open 12 months ago. At Pinehurst the scene was different and the moment McIlroy seemed ready; his lead was two in the final furlongs. The pressure McIlroy felt was not the result of scar tissue from previous capitulations, because none existed. Instead, he realized that Major Number Five was tantalizingly close. The burden of a decade-long delay fell heavily on the 35-year-old. It’s entirely possible that he just wanted this too much; he’s just human.

DeChambeau deserves a lot of credit, especially for the sensational bunker shot on the 72nd hole that all but sealed the victory. However, this major will be remembered for McIlroy’s missteps. Missed putts on the 16th and 18th opened the door for DeChambeau. The American’s performance at last month’s US PGA had shown that he was back to his best. Golf is a better place for that. In this case, it wouldn’t have mattered whether the champion was DeChambeau, with whom McIlroy never had a good relationship, or his great friend Shane Lowry. The US Open was there, it was between his fingernails, and it was slipping away. It was dramatic because McIlroy looked so composed. This felt like his moment, his time. He had not missed nearly 500 attempts from within five feet on the PGA Tour all year. No one will particularly care that McIlroy’s final deviation came from a horrible, slippery, sliding descent. Things could have only been worse for McIlroy if this had played out at Augusta National. McIlroy became noticeably slower and more deliberate over the ball, which seemed like a dangerous situation for such a natural performer.

McIlroy has waited ten years for a fifth major win after an agonizing finish at Pinehurst. Photo: US Open

The Convention suggests that it will take McIlroy a while to recover from the events in North Carolina. Nick Faldo believes the US Open will ‘haunt McIlroy for the rest of his life’. However, it is unwise to connect the dots when it comes to number 2 in the world. McIlroy’s unpredictability is part of what makes him so addictive. This is the golfer who imploded at the 2011 Masters and within a few weeks claimed the US Open by eight. As the years go by, athletes tend to fixate on their bad days longer, but McIlroy’s lowest moments routinely precede epic highs. The problem is that the July Open in Troon offers the last big opportunity of 2024. From that moment on it will be a long wait until the Masters.

skip the newsletter promotion

McIlroy is on the interview schedule Wednesday at TPC River Highlands, where he will compete in the Travelers Championship. The nature of elite golf is such that you have no option to jump back on the horse. He has until the Open to not only process what happened at Pinehurst, but to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Even for such a remarkable player, this is quite a challenge. That’s what the photo told us.