After opening with a 68, Northern Irishman shoots a sloppy 76 and falls to T-22 as his 6-year winless streak in the majors seems destined to continue
MAMARONECK, N.Y. – Winning a U.S. Open rarely comes from leading after the first round.
Instead, putting a solid 18 holes together, usually two or three shots behind the leader, is a perfect place to be: within reach but without the spotlight and pressure of being the frontrunner.
Rory McIlroy did exactly that on Thursday. With a first round 3-under 67 at Winged Foot Golf Club, the Northern Irishman stood two shots behind leader Justin Thomas and in an ideal spot entering the final 54 holes of the 120th U.S. Open.
It was the fifth time that he started a major with a round in the 60s since his 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla, and the score tied his best opening round since a 68 at last year’s U.S. Open.
By any measure, it was an ideal start.
McIlroy began in a similar manner in last year’s Open at Pebble Beach, shooting 68 and following it with a 69, eventually tying for ninth.
It wouldn’t have been out of the question for McIlroy to do something similar on Friday at Winged Foot.
Instead, the proverbial wheels came off, which often has been the case for McIlroy in the past six years at major championships. A four-time major champion, he has gone winless in golf’s Grand Slam events since claiming his second Wanamaker Trophy six years ago.
By his mid-20s, McIlroy seemed destined to become one of golf’s all-time greats. It’s still possible, but at age 31 and with another shot at a major title slipping away this week, those lofty forecasts of just a few years ago have faded.
McIlroy has won nine times since his last major title, improving his PGA Tour record to 18 victories. He’s a shoo-in for the World Golf Hall of Fame. Yet, a steady drumbeat of questions regarding what might be wrong with McIlroy at the majors has increased. Those inquiries have come with few apparent answers.
With a 6-over 76 on Friday, McIlroy dropped to 3 over for the tournament and into a tie for 22nd, seven shots behind leader Patrick Reed (scores).
More importantly, McIlroy, who refused to talk to the media after his round, has to wonder where to turn next.
At times, he looked visibly shaken by errant shots. He hooked a fairway shot into a greenside bunker at the par-4 fifth hole, prompting him to close his eyes and remove his cap in disappointment. It led to a bogey, his fourth consecutive hole of bogey or worse in a round that quickly unraveled.
McIlroy has been in this situation far too often in major championships, and he seems to be having a tough time dealing with another failed attempt.
Though it’s not over for him, especially at a course as demanding as Winged Foot, McIlroy lost a lot of ground Friday. He can only hope that he used up the week’s bad shots on a day when he made seven bogeys and a double bogey.
He has 36 holes during which to start his climb back up the leaderboard.
Is he up to the task, or will he go 0-for-21 since his last major victory?
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