'A Great Day Until It Wasn't': Rory McIlroy Revisits Agonizing Sunday at U.S. Open

The world No. 2, returning this week at the Scottish Open, recounted the closing holes and short missed putts at Pinehurst.
Rory McIlroy recounted his two short misses in the final round of the U.S. Open on Wednesday, prior to the Genesis Scottish Open.
Rory McIlroy recounted his two short misses in the final round of the U.S. Open on Wednesday, prior to the Genesis Scottish Open. / John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Calling it “a great day until it wasn’t,” Rory McIlroy spoke for the first time Wednesday about his crushing final round at the U.S. Open won by Bryson DeChambeau, going into detail on the late missed putts that cost him a chance at his fifth major title.

McIlroy, who is defending his Genesis Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club near North Berwick, Scotland, this week in advance of next week’s British Open at Royal Troon, spoke with reporters following his pro-am.

“I did things on that Sunday that I haven't been able to do in the last couple years,’’ McIlroy said of the final round at Pinehurst No. 2. “Took control of the golf tournament. Holed putts when I needed to—well, mostly when I needed to. Made birdies. You know, really got myself in there. And then, look, obviously unfortunately to miss those last two putts, or the putt on 16 and obviously the putt on 18.”’’

McIlroy led DeChambeau by two strokes with five holes to play but admitted the situation became difficult over the closing holes.

The missed 2-and-a-half foot putt at the 16th hole is the one he regrets the most. The miss at the 18th, which was just under 4 feet, came as the result of a severely sloping downhill putt. And McIlroy said—knowing the DeChambeau might be in trouble behind him off the tee—he didn’t want to run that putt well past the hole in case it did miss.

“I can vividly remember starting to feel a little uncomfortable waiting for my second putt on 16, and the putt on the last, it was a really tricky putt,” McIlroy said. “And I was very aware of where Bryson was off the tee. I knew I had to hit it really soft. If the one (coming) back didn't matter, I would have hit it firmer.

“But because I was sort of in two minds, I didn't know whether Bryson was going to make a par or not, it was one of those ones where I had to make sure that if the putt didn't go in, that it wasn't going 10 feet by which it very easily could have.

“Thinking back, maybe I was a little too aware of where Bryson was and what he was doing but it was the nature of the golf course and how the golf course flowed. After the 14th tee, you're sort of looking at 13 green, and then I had to wait on my tee shot on 15 before he hit, so let him hit his second shot into 14. Just the way the course flowed, it just made me very aware of what he was doing at the same time. So it sort of got me out of my own little world a little bit.”

Later, McIlroy explained the missed putt on 18 in more detail. McIlroy had missed the fairway off the tee with a driver and had a tricky approach that he punched in front of the green before hitting his chip shot.

“I just left it on the wrong side of the hole. I got above the hole,” he said. “Where the hole was cut was on top of the little slope, and ended up pretty dry and crusty around the hole. And the chip shot just ran out a little bit and got past the hole. I hit that putt very, very easy, and obviously just missed on the low side, and it still went a good 3 or 4 feet by.

“I was probably playing it, I don't know, like two, two and a half cups left, whatever it was, a 3-and-a-half-foot putt. There was a lot of swing to it, especially with how easy I was hitting it. Like I said, if it was match play and the next one didn't matter I would have approached the putt differently.

“But knowing that Bryson had hit it left off the tee, I just sort of wanted to make sure that if there was still a chance at a playoff, that it was at least going to be that.”

McIlroy, who left Pinehurst within an hour of the conclusion of the tournament, flew to his home in Florida and then spent the next few days in New York City, where he had planned to go in advance of the Travelers Championship.

But the four-time major champion withdrew from the signature event, making the Scottish Open his first start since the second-place finish at the U.S. Open.

“Went to Manhattan, which was nice,” McIlroy said. “It was nice to sort of blend in with the city a little bit. I walked around. I walked the High Line a couple of times. I made a few phone calls. Sort of was alone with my thoughts for a couple days, which was good. 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 Troon.

“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.”

McIlroy said his losses at the 2011 Masters—where he shot a final-round 80 after holding the 54-hole lead and the 2022 Open at St. Andrews where he didn’t miss a green the final day but fell to Cam Smith’s 64—were more difficult defeats than the U.S. Open loss.

“I think as you achieve more in the game, you can soften the blow, if you look at everything I've been able to accomplish,” he said. “It's been a while since I've won a major, it hurt, but I felt worse after some other losses. I felt worse after Augusta in '11 and I felt worse after St Andrews. It was up there with the tough losses but not the toughest.

“When I look back on that day, just like I look back on some of my toughest moments in my career, I'll learn a lot from it and I'll hopefully put that to good use. It's something that's been a bit of a theme throughout my career. I've been able to take those tough moments and turn them into great things not very long after that.”


Bob Harig


Bob Harig is a senior writer covering golf for Sports Illustrated. He has more than 25 years experience on the beat, including 15 at ESPN. Harig is a regular guest on Sirius XM PGA Tour Radio and has written two books, "DRIVE: The Lasting Legacy of Tiger Woods" and "Tiger and Phil: Golf's Most Fascinating Rivalry." He graduated from Indiana University where he earned an Evans Scholarship, named in honor of the great amateur golfer Charles (Chick) Evans Jr. Harig, a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America, lives in Clearwater, Fla.