It might have been fitting if someone from Hollywood won this year’s US Open at the Los Angeles Country Club. But Rory McIlroy, born in the town of Hollywood, Northern Ireland, doesn’t have that kind of year.
On Sunday, McIlroy was chasing his first major title in nine years, a drought that continues to play out in a shining career that began with four major titles from 2011 to 2014. In April, he missed participating in the Masters Tournament. A month later, he finished seventh at the PGA Championship.
Then, on June 6, McIlroy, the most vocal loyalist backing the PGA Tour in its dispute with the LIV golf circuit, learned just hours before word broke that the two tours had shockingly formed a business partnership.
McIlroy, like almost all PGA Tour players, was devastated.
But on Sunday, McIlroy, smiling, was again chasing with enthusiasm for another major title, in the final round of the 123rd US Open. He battled the opening hole and for most of the next four hours seemed poised to take the eventual lead, Windham Clark, the leader. Participant in the third round with Rickie Fowler.
McIlroy, however, didn’t birdie another hole and eventually Clark, after some tense closing moments, bested McIlroy with a stroke as both golfers shot to 70 seconds. It was McIlroy’s third runner-up finish in a major and his 10th top-five finish in a major since 2014.
“I fought to the end, and I’m getting close,” McIlroy said Sunday of his chase for a fifth major title, adding, “I have to keep putting myself in those positions and, you know, sooner or later it’s going to happen to me.”
McElroy said he felt a connection between his performance on Sunday and his second-place finish at last year’s British Open in St Andrews.
“The last two real opportunities I’ve had at the big companies have been pretty much the same,” he said. “Don’t do too much wrong.”
McIlroy’s chase went into the final strokes of the event, as Clarke, playing the last set of the day, forced a 60-foot double putt into the 18th green to clinch the championship.
McIlroy admitted he was hoping for a foul.
“You don’t want to wish badly on anyone,” he said, “but you really hope to get a three-pointer.” “You’re somehow hoping to get into a playoff to still give yourself a chance. You’re rooting for one guy, and that guy is yourself at that point. A mistake can give you a glimmer of hope.”
“But Windham was pretty solid all day, and that was a big hit at the end.”
McIlroy’s fourth round started auspiciously when he hit the green on the par-5, 585-yard first hole with his second putt and two opening birdies that briefly moved him to a par for the championship lead.
But he struggled to capitalize on that early momentum even when he scored at par — a streak of 12 in total. He showed nervousness sinking several tense four-foot putts, but failed to get his approach shots enough for easier birdie attempts.
McIlroy was hanging but could not convert any putts longer than seven feet in the middle of his round. On the eighth green, he pulled a birdie eight-foot left from the hole, a missed opportunity McIlroy specifically mentioned in his post-round press conference.
On the par-3 9th hole, McIlroy’s towering iron putt came to rest 14 feet from the flag. As he walked onto the green, fans in two crowded stands implored him to make a fairly straight throw that would put him in a tie with Clark, but again McIlroy could not seize the moment.
McIlroy’s run of back-to-back pars ended on the par-5 14th hole after his tee shot hit the rough left of the fairway. He was forced to lie wide of the post with a second shot, although he was then faced with a short wedge putt into the green.
McIlroy later said that he was choosing between two teams to shoot, but felt a gust of wind before he began his swing, which hindered the shot’s momentum.
“I had the right club,” he said, “but I could have waited an extra 15 or 20 seconds to let this little storm calm down.”
McIlroy’s golf ball landed a foot less than perfect and failed to clear a large bunker protecting the front of the 14th green. The ball is embedded in the grassy bank between sand and green.
He was given a free rest in the grass to the right of the dugout, but his chip off the slope to the green rolled 26 feet from the hole. That led to a bogey, and McIlroy fell to nine short of par, extending Clarke’s lead to two sessions.
McIlroy closed with a four-chapter routine.
At the conclusion of his press conference on Sunday, he was asked if he was weary of answering questions about waiting nine years to win a fifth major championship. He acknowledged being exhausted but added, “At the same time, when I finally win that next major, it’s going to be really cool. I would go through 100 days like this to get my hands on another major.”