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Close but No Major Again for Rory McIlroy After Frustrating Final-Round 70 at U.S. Open

The Ulsterman led the field in greens in regulation, but too many two-putts were his undoing while finishing second by a shot.

LOS ANGELES — There was a moment when Rory McIlroy was walking out of the interview area and Rickie Fowler was just coming up the stairs.

McIlroy put his arm around Fowler’s head and consoled Fowler, they spoke about the round and the greens, wished each other good luck and parted.

Both had just lost to Wyndham Clark on Sunday. Fowler didn’t have his game and was never really a factor.

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The pride of Holywood, Northern Ireland, played a round reminiscent of Sir Nick Faldo at the British Open in 1987 when the Englishman made 18 straight pars to win his first major championship. But there was no trophy for McIlroy on this day.

After a two-putt birdie at the par-5 1st, McIlroy put together 12 consecutive pars and while he was tied for the lead early in the round with Clark, he lost the lead when Clark birdied the par-3 4th hole and never led again.

It wasn’t a tactical error that caused McIlroy to make par after par, mostly by two-putting his way around Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course.

McIlroy hit 15 of 18 greens on Sunday and was No. 1 in the category over four days, hitting 82%.

The problem was the putting. He averaging two putts a hole in Sunday’s final round and T42 for the week with 1.81 putts per hole.

“The golf course was playing really tricky, and obviously the scores in the final few groups reflected that,” McIlroy said after the even-par 70 which gave him a third runner-up finish in a major. “There was a couple of things that I probably would have done differently, but all in all, I played a solid round of golf.”

While McIlroy mentioned the wedge shot at the par-5 14th when he found the front bunker due to a gust of wind and a missed birdie putt on the par-5 8th hole, the final round came down to McIlroy not executing his irons to give himself realistic looks at birdie.

Of the 18 holes, McIlroy had only one birdie putt inside 10 feet, on the first hole when he two-putted for birdie.

On half the holes he played on Sunday, McIlroy had first putts of more than 30 feet, which even by PGA Tour standards are converted less than 10 percent of the time.

“The last real two chances I've had at majors I feel like have been pretty similar performances, like St. Andrews last year and then here,” McIlroy said. “Not doing a lot wrong, but I didn't make a birdie since the first hole today. Just trying to be a little more, I guess, efficient with my opportunities and my looks.”

In theory, what McIlroy says makes sense in a major environment, but it looked eerily like the strategy of Brooks Koepka at the Masters this year.

The five-time major winner played conservatively and let the chaser come to him and when they did, Koepka had no answer.

It’s fair to say McIlroy, 34, was not exactly in the same situation as Koepka. McIlroy didn’t have the lead and this wasn't Augusta National, but Clark clearly didn’t read the playbook for the inexperienced in majors as he won his first major in his seventh attempt as McIlroy lost his chance for his fifth.

“I'm getting closer,” McIlroy said. “The more I keep putting myself in these positions, sooner or later it's going to happen for me. Just got to regroup and get focused for Hoylake in a few weeks' time.”

His drought has now reached 33 majors.

It’s a streak that no one in the golf world would have believed could happen to the four-time major winner when he grabbed the Wanamaker Trophy at the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla.

Now he returns to a venue he knows very well where he won his only Open Championship in 2014, by two shots over Spaniard Sergio Garcia and Fowler.

The course is different, with significant changes to its length and will play as a par-71 versus a par-72 when McIlroy won at 17 under par.

There is something about going back to venues you have had success at.

Look at Matt Fitzpatrick last year at The Country Club when he won his first major at the same course where he won his U.S. Amateur in 2013.

So, McIlroy has that going for him.

He may have to revamp his philosophy a little and make some more putts, but the Ulsterman feels he is getting closer.

"When I do finally win this next major, it's going to be really, really sweet,” McIlroy said. “I would go through 100 Sundays like this to get my hands on another major championship.”