Rory McIlroy opens up about US Open defeat for first time
8 mins read

Rory McIlroy opens up about US Open defeat for first time

Rory McIlroy has spoken out for the first time since his demoralising breakdown at Pinehurst No. 2 last month.

Before this year’s Genesis Scottish Open, a 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 was 8-under par and one-shot ahead of Bryson DeChambeau with four holes to play, but he made three bogeys late and lost by one, continuing his decade-long major championship drought.

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

“And then, look, I was clearly unlucky to miss those last two putts, the putt (par) on 16 and of course the putt on 18.”

A missed par on the 16th hole will stay with the U.S. Open for years. From 2 feet, 6 inches, McIlroy made his first missed par all year. His drop shot on the 16th hole — his second bogey in a row — put him back in a tie with DeChambeau.

Rory McIlroy, US Open

Rory McIlroy’s failed attempt at par on the 16th hole.
Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

“I distinctly remember feeling a little uneasy waiting for my second putt on the 16th hole,” McIlroy said.

“I hit such a good (lag) putt. Halfway there, the first putt looked like it could be a birdie, and then it went a foot past where I thought it was going to be. That’s when I marked it. Then Patrick (Cantlay) putted and he can take his time. Obviously, the greens are tough. It’s the end of Sunday at the U.S. Open. You have to be really deliberate about what you do.

“I think I had to wait a little bit to hit that second putt. It was just more, you’re standing there, it’s hard not to start thinking ahead or noticing where Bryson’s ball was on the fairway or things like that. But again, it’s my fault, just making sure I was in the right headspace and hitting a decent one — like, I hit a decent putt on 16, the green caught it. I probably read it just right of center. I probably started it a little left of that. I probably started it straight, maybe a little left of center, and the green caught it and caught the left edge. It wasn’t a terrible putt, but I definitely felt a little bit of trepidation before I hit it.”

McIlroy’s anxiety in the North Carolina heat continued for minutes afterward. He backed off on the par-3 17th but made a nice up-and-down shot from the bunker to save par.

Rory McIlroy, US Open

Rory McIlroy missed his putt again on the 18th hole.
Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

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

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

“If that one back didn’t matter, I would have hit it harder. But because I was a little torn, I didn’t know if Bryson was going to make par or not; it was one of those times where I had to make sure that if the putt didn’t go in, it didn’t go 10 feet, which could have happened very easily.”

He didn’t hit his left-right putt high enough – the most difficult for a right-handed player – and his attempt spiraled out of control.

“I probably played, I don’t know, two, two-and-a-half cups, whatever it was, a three-and-a-half-foot putt. It had a lot of swing, especially considering 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 of his missed 18th.

Rory McIlroy, US Open

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

“But knowing that Bryson had hit the ball off the tee, I wanted to make sure that if there was a chance for a playoff, at least that was it.”

McIlroy’s reasoning makes sense. The 2024 US Open almost went to a playoff when DeChambeau was in trouble on the 18th. His drive came to rest near the root, forcing the LIV Golf star to hit his second shot up and into a bunker 50 yards from the green. The rest is history.

Despite this, the Northern Irishman felt pressure from DeChambeau all day long.

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

“But when I look back on that day, like I look back on the toughest moments of my career, I’ll learn a lot from it and hopefully put it to good use. It’s something that’s been a theme throughout my career. I’ve been able to take those tough moments and turn them into something great soon after.”

Rory McIlroy, PGA Tour, Genesis Scottish Open

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

McIlroy has certainly had his share of tough moments in his career. The 2011 Masters comes to mind. McIlroy had a four-shot lead going into Sunday’s final round but shot an 8-over 80 to fall out of contention. Two months later, he won the U.S. Open at Congressional by eight strokes, outscoring everyone on his way to his first major title.

Perhaps history will repeat itself next week at Royal Troon, where McIlroy finished fifth in 2016. He has a tendency to bounce back, but to do so in this year’s Open, he will need a ton of discipline — something he lacked a bit over the final nine holes at Pinehurst. But mistakes are only mistakes if you don’t learn from them, and McIlroy believes he has learned from his recent late-round loss last month.

“Of course, there are times when my mind goes back to the last four holes and I wish things had turned out differently,” McIlroy said.

“But as long as I’ve learned something from them and I’m moving on, you know, it’s good to be back on the course this week at The Scottish Open and then obviously have another chance next week at Troon. It’s just another chance. I’m playing some great golf and it’s another chance to see how I can handle it, hopefully better than I did a few weeks ago.”

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