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Saga of Rory McIlroy continues at Genesis Scottish Open

8 Min Read



After crushing loss, McIlroy returns to site of thrilling victory

    Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR

    He walked the High Line afterward, just a man alone with his thoughts.

    Rory McIlroy had already planned to spend some time in New York City, so he went through with it, three days in Manhattan as he went about the slow process of putting his life back together after the worst moment of his career. A few people recognized him, but mostly, they let him be, his AirPods blocking out the world.

    “It was nice to sort of blend in with the city a little bit,” McIlroy said Wednesday from the Genesis Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club. They were his first public comments since he finished second in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, which marked his 11th top-five in a major since he last won one (2014 PGA Championship), and the second straight U.S. Open in which he finished one back.

    “(I) sort of was alone with my thoughts for a couple days, which was good," McIlroy said about his post-Open trip to Manhattan. "I had some good chats with people close to me, and as you start to think about not just Sunday at Pinehurst but the whole way throughout the week, there was a couple of things that I noticed that I wanted to try to work on over the last few weeks coming into here, and obviously next week at Royal Troon Golf Club.

    “They were hard but at the same time, as each day went by, it became easier to focus on the positives and then to think about the future instead of what had just happened.”

    Rory McIlroy misses two costly short putts at the U.S. Open

    Maybe you watched McIlroy lose the U.S. Open. Maybe you got swept up in his quest because, season after season, sequel after sequel, you’re still the worst kind of fool and the best kind of audience.

    “Did you just fall down?” your wife asked at the worst part, from the kitchen, and yes, you did sort of let your legs buckle upon McIlroy’s unaccountable short miss on 16.

    “Rory just missed a 2-foot putt,” you said.

    He's falling apart again, you didn’t add. Because that would not be kind, nor would it help.

    Also, technically, it was 2 1/2 feet, but when McIlroy missed from 4 feet at the last, you just knew Bryson DeChambeau was going to walk through that open door. McIlroy’s two-stroke lead with five holes to play was gone to three bogeys in his last four holes. It was game over, but good news for the sequel. Frodo and the ring. McIlroy and major No. 5.

    After winning four majors from 2011-14, he has only found ways to lose them. You strain for a comparison from another sport. You wonder how McIlroy, who repeatedly and passionately contends he's a much-improved player from a decade ago, cannot replicate his earlier success in majors. You wonder if maybe you’re cracking up a little yourself. You really hope he doesn’t read this.

    How much to remember? How much to forget?

    These are the questions for McIlroy as he prepares to defend his title at the Genesis Scottish Open 25 days after what he described as his lowest point as a professional.

    “It was a great day until it wasn't,” he said. “If anything, I'd say my pre-shot routine got a little bit long. Started to look at the target a few more times over the ball.”

    He also started to look back at DeChambeau, he added, which was partly because of the intimate routing at Pinehurst, he said. It was also a mistake.

    “Not really staying in my own little world for the whole 18 holes,” McIlroy said. “But really, apart from that, there's not a lot I would do differently.”

    The spotlight will be squarely on McIlroy as he tees it up alongside Scotland's Robert MacIntyre, whom he pipped by a shot at this event last year, and FedExCup champion Viktor Hovland for the first two rounds this week. It will only intensify next week after he makes the 105-mile hop to Royal Troon for The Open and his latest attempt at major No. 5. We’re coming to the end of Season 10 of this unscripted drama, a cat-and-mouse game that, in all its twists and turns, supersedes anything else on TV.

    Rory McIlroy's back-to-back birdies to win 2023 Genesis Scottish Open

    At 35, McIlroy may be at an inflection point. One photo from Pinehurst said it all: caddie Harry Diamond’s left hand on McIlroy’s back as he staggered off to sign his card. Moments later, NBC showed the three-time FedExCup winner, his face a rictus of agony, watching the bitter end as DeChambeau made a par save from the front bunker that was anything but routine but seemed preordained, nonetheless.

    McIlroy, a man fighting himself, left the course without comment.

    “The one word that I would describe my career as is resilient,” he said the next day in a statement. “I’ve shown my resilience over and over again in the last 17 years and I will again.”

    He withdrew from the Travelers Championship, resolving to take some time away to “process everything and build myself back up.” And then he disappeared into the masses in Manhattan, just another human in a sea of them. Walking. Thinking. He’d done a lot right at Pinehurst; he’d have to hold onto that. It was a great day until it wasn’t.

    For this week, at least, he can be comforted by the fact that The Renaissance Club was the site of one of his most inspired victories, his sensational 5-iron tee shot to the par-3 17th and a scalded 2-iron into a fierce wind on 18. His two unlikely birdies were enough to edge MacIntyre, the local favorite, for the win in flagstick-bending wind.

    “To finish 2-3 like I did,” McIlroy said of his two closing birdies. “Everyone talks about the 2-iron at the last but the 5-iron I hit into 17 was just as good a shot if not a little bit better. To hit two iron shots like that and hole the putts when I needed to, it was awesome. Sort of I felt in some ways bad that it came at the expense of Bob, but at the same time it was amazing to win a tournament that I had never won before.”

    Reflecting on happier times was a reminder that all is not lost, even if it sometimes feels that way.

    Just two weeks ago, Akshay Bhatia three-putted to lose the Rocket Mortgage Classic. McIlroy allowed Wednesday that he’s blown tournaments before. The one that came to mind, he said, was the 2008 Omega European Masters in Switzerland, where he missed a short putt in a playoff.

    “You think about all of them,” he said. “And I was probably more devastated after that because it was my rookie year … I hadn't won yet. I remember feeling really bad after that for like a good week.”

    And yet McIlroy, the winner of 26 PGA TOUR events, three FedExCups, five Race to Dubai (DP World Tour) titles, plus so many national opens he has struggled to keep track, has done OK for himself since then.

    “I stewed on what happened at Pinehurst for a couple of days,” he said, “but then, yeah, thankfully I can go home and look at what I've achieved in the game and sort of feel OK about myself. Yeah, look, it was a great opportunity. It passed me by, but hopefully, when I get that next opportunity, it won't pass me by.”

    When McIlroy was still a mop-topped teenager, had you offered him all he has at this stage of his career, he almost certainly would have taken it. Also, he is roughly the age when some generationally great players, including newly enshrined World Golf Hall of Famer Padraig Harrington, captured major No. 1. McIlroy still has a lot of at-bats ahead of him and knows he can access the good times, not just the bad. He need only to think back to last year’s Genesis Scottish Open, where he executed a deft trick of the mind.

    “Yeah, for whatever reason, walking onto the 17th tee, the 2013 Australian Open popped into my head,” he said after the final round last year. “I was one behind Adam Scott with two holes to play. We were playing in the same group as each other. I holed a great putt on 17 for par to stay one behind playing the last, and then he made a bogey, and I made a birdie, and I was able to clip him by a shot…

    “All those memories and those experiences, they stand by you,” he added, “and that just gave me a good feeling going into those last couple holes to try to do something special.”

    How to hit a stinger like Rory McIlroy

    He simply needs to do that in a major, you want to tell him, but then he knows that.

    He knows golf is a mind game, and he knows that his buildup of failures in front of the world will make his success all the sweeter if (when?) it finally happens. You know this, too. It was what happened when the Boston Red Sox finally got there in ’04 – tears of joy for the long-suffering faithful.

    All those memories and those experiences, they stand by you.

    “There's not a day goes by that I don't feel like I'm the luckiest person in the world to get up every morning and be healthy and follow my dream,” McIlroy said. “There's videos of me at 7 years old saying I want to be the best player in the world and I want to win all the majors. To be able to try to make that little 7-year-old boy proud every day is something that I really don't take for granted.

    “I'm very appreciative of the position that I'm in in life.”

    The ring hovers in plain sight, turning and tumbling, attracting and repelling, both ever within McIlroy’s grasp and ever just out of reach.

    “It’s right there!” you want to yell, but no one can hear you.

    The saga continues.

    Cameron Morfit is a Staff Writer for the PGA TOUR. He has covered rodeo, arm-wrestling, and snowmobile hill climb in addition to a lot of golf. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.

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