“Great day until it wasn’t:” Rory McIlroy opens up on U.S. Open collapse for first time

Rory McIlroy has spoken for the first time since his demoralizing collapse at Pinehurst No. 2 last month.

Ahead of this week’s Genesis Scottish Open, the tournament he won in dramatic fashion a year ago, McIlroy called the final round of this year’s U.S. Open a “great day until it wasn’t.” McIlroy sat at 8-under and held a one-shot advantage over Bryson DeChambeau with four holes to play, but he made three bogeys down the stretch to lose by one, thus continuing his decade-long major championship drought.

“I did things on that Sunday that I haven’t been able to do in the last couple of years. I took control of the golf tournament. I holed putts when I needed to. Well, mostly when I needed to. I made birdies. You know, really got myself in there,” said McIlroy, who was 4-under par for his round through 14 holes.

“And then, look, obviously, unfortunate to miss those last two putts, the [par] putt on 16 and obviously the putt on 18.”

The missed par attempt on 16 will live in U.S. Open infamy for years. From 2 feet 6 inches away, McIlroy pulled his par try, the first attempt he missed inside of three feet all year. His dropped shot on 16—his second straight bogey—brought him back into a tie with DeChambeau.

Rory McIlroy’s missed par attempt at 16.
Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

“I can vividly remember feeling a little uncomfortable waiting for my second putt on 16,” McIlroy said.

“I hit such a good [lag] putt. Halfway down, the first putt looked like it could be a birdie, and then it ran a foot by where I thought it was going to finish. Then I marked it. Then it was Patrick [Cantlay’s] turn to putt, and he can take his time. Obviously, greens are tough. It’s the end of a Sunday at the U.S. Open. You have to be really deliberate in what you’re doing.

“I just think I had to wait a while to hit that second putt. It was just more, you stand there, it’s hard not to either start thinking about the future or notice where Bryson’s ball is in the fairway or that sort of stuff. But again, that’s on me to make sure that I’m in the right head space, and I hit a decent—like I hit a decent putt on 16, the green grabbed it. I probably read that just right of center. Probably started it a touch left of that. I probably started it straight, maybe a touch left of center, and the green grabbed it, and it caught the left edge. It wasn’t a terrible putt, but I definitely felt a little bit of uneasiness before I hit it.”

McIlroy’s uneasiness in the North Carolina heat continued over the subsequent minutes. He pulled his approach on the par-3 17th, but made a nice up-and-down from the bunker to save par.

Rory McIlroy, U.S. Open

Rory McIlroy missed another par putt on the 18th hole.
Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

After missing the fairway on 18, McIlroy hit his second shot just short of the green. He then hit his pitch shot to 3-feet-9-inches above the hole, where he missed the side-winding par attempt—a difficult putt under any circumstances, let alone on the 72nd hole of a U.S. Open. Meanwhile, in the group behind McIlroy, DeChambeau, who held a one-shot lead thanks to McIlroy’s bogey, hit a gorgeous bunker shot to a couple of feet from 55 yards away to win the title.

“The putt on the last was a really tricky putt. And I was very aware of where Bryson was off the tee. I knew I had to hit it really soft,” McIlroy explained.

“If the one back didn’t matter, I would have hit it firmer. But because I was sort of in two minds, I didn’t know whether Bryson was going to make a par or not; it was one of those ones where I had to make sure that if the putt didn’t go in, it wasn’t going ten feet by which it very easily could have.”

He did not play his left-to-right breaker high enough—the toughest putt for a right-hander—as his attempt slipped by on the low side.

“I was probably playing it, I don’t know, like two, two and a half cups left, whatever it was, three-and-a-half-foot putt. It had a lot of swing to it, especially with how easy I was hitting it. If it was match play and the next one didn’t matter, I would have approached the putt differently,” McIlroy added about his miss on 18.

Rory McIlroy, U.S. Open

Rory McIlroy reacts to his tee shot on the 15th hole.
Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

“But knowing that Bryson had hit it left off the tee, I just wanted to make sure that if there was still a chance at a playoff, it was at least going to be that.”

McIlroy’s reasoning makes sense. The 2024 U.S. Open almost went to a playoff, as DeChambeau was in trouble left on 18. His drive came to rest next to a root, which forced the LIV Golf star to punch his second shot up and into the bunker 50 yards short of the green. The rest is history.

And yet, the Northern Irishman felt pressured by DeChambeau all day.

“Thinking back, maybe I was a little too aware of where Bryson was and what he was doing, but it was the nature of the golf course and how it flowed. After the 14th tee, you’re sort of looking at 13 green, and then I had to wait on my tee shot on 15 to let him hit his second shot into 14. The way the course flowed made me very aware of what he was doing at the same time. So it sort of got me out of my own little world a little bit,” McIlroy explained.

“But when I look back on that day, just like when I look back on some of the toughest moments in my career, I’ll learn a lot from it, and I’ll hopefully put that to good use. It’s something that’s been a bit of a theme throughout my career. I’ve been able to take those tough moments and turn them into great things not very long after that.”

Rory McIlroy, PGA Tour, Genesis Scottish Open

Rory McIlroy during the 2024 Genesis Scottish Open Pro-Am.
Photo by Malcolm Mackenzie/Getty Images

McIlroy has certainly had his fair share of difficult instances throughout his career. The 2011 Masters comes to mind. McIlroy held a four-shot lead going into Sunday’s final round but carded an 8-over 80 to fall out of contention. Two months later, he won the U.S. Open at Congressional by eight shots, lapping the field en route to his first major title.

Perhaps history will repeat itself next week at Royal Troon, where McIlroy tied for fifth in 2016. He has a penchant for bouncing back, but to do so at this year’s Open will require plenty of discipline—something that he lacked somewhat on the back nine at Pinehurst. But mistakes are only mistakes if one does not learn from them, and McIlroy feels he has learned from last month’s late-round debacle.

“Obviously, there are moments where my mind sort of wanders back to those final four holes, and you wish that things would have been different,” McIlroy said.

“But as long as I learned from them and move on, you know, it’s good to get back on the course this week at The Scottish Open, and then obviously have another opportunity next week at Troon. It’s just another opportunity. 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.”

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.

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