Rory McIlroy bowed out of the US Open after his second-round 71 but remained upbeat that the run of competitive golf now ahead of him will revive his form and fortunes
If Rory McIlroy was a racehorse, there would have been no logic at all in ranking him among the favourites for an event of equivalent significance to the US Open. As golfs version of a performer who is lightly raced, McIlroy arrived at Erin Hills having played only 22 competitive rounds in 2017.
That figure increased by only two, McIlroys second-round 71 in the second major of 2017 proving insufficient to improve the damage caused by an opening round of 78. McIlroy at least departed in reasonable spirits, his run of four birdies in six closing holes providing a glance back towards what the four-time major champion is capable of.
In practice I was really good, McIlroy said. You play 54 holes around here before the tournament; I felt really comfortable. I drove the ball well, my irons were good. Everything was in good shape. But you never really know until you put a card in your hand and youre under the gun a little bit.
Rickie Fowler encountered pressure of his own, the first-round leader having reached the 11th on Friday without having dropped a shot in the tournament. Fowler promptly bogeyed three holes in a row. At six under, he is one from the halfway lead as held by four players. Two of that group, Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood, are English; Brooks Koepka and Brian Harman complete the quartet. Caseys prominence is remarkable given the eight he posted at the 14th in round two.
The investigative skills of Quincy are hardly necessary when determining why McIlroy missed a second US Open cut in succession. This tournament has not been altogether kind to McIlroy aside from the 2011 occasion when he won it, let alone when the buildup was disrupted by fitness troubles. The rib problem that upset his opening to the year provides perfect explanation for the appearance of rust at Erin Hills. The equipment switch that was triggered by Nikes withdrawal from the market also inevitably adds an element of upheaval that McIlroy would ideally have done without. These matters are all intrinsically linked; only by featuring at the business end of events can McIlroy perfectly attune himself to what new tools he has at his disposal, just as history shows he benefits from the confidence acquired from the very same scenarios. McIlroy relishes the momentum he has thus far been denied for reasons beyond his control.
Ive been very light on competitive rounds, McIlroy said. I think at this point in time I just need to play. And I feel, even though its very disappointing to not be here on the weekend, these last two rounds will serve me well going into the summer. Yesterday, coming off an injury, I was a little anxious going out there. I got off to a good start but it sort of caught up with me as the round went on. I think the more rounds I can play, Im hopefully going to get rid of all that stuff and hopefully strip it down to what you saw the last six holes.
Here is another reason for McIlroy cheer; no other player among the worlds leading group has recently embarked on a profitable run. The 28-year-old is hardly lagging behind in a wider context.
The next part of the season is key for him. Next weeks Travellers Championship begins a stretch of six events in eight weeks, including two major championships and one, the US PGA Championship, at the Quail Hollow venue he has previous for pulling apart. Should success arrive within this period, the frustrations of the first part of 2017 will be readily forgotten. Even when the major season concludes, McIlroy will not lack focus in respect of defending the FedEx Cup.
Im just excited to get a run of golf now, he added. Im optimistic with where my game is. Hopefully Ive got a lot of the bad stuff out of my system yesterday and some parts today. And again, its just a matter of getting competitive rounds under my belt. Im playing next week in Connecticut. Ive got a nice run leading up to the Open Championship. Ive got a busy summer, so Im excited to play a lot of golf. I feel like thats going to help me to get back into contention and try to win some of these things. Im hungry but Im not going to force it. Im going to let it happen. Im going to play. The worst thing I can do is go and force it because thats not my game.
The key McIlroy problem on Friday was on the greens, leading to inevitable comment regarding his switch to a new putter in recent days. I didnt think it was the putter.It was the guy on the end of it, he said. Jason Day also failed to survive for the closing 36 holes. Yet there was contrasting sentiment from the Australian. Day was bemused by an aggregate of 10 over par. I felt the most calm I have in a major in a long time this week, said Day after his 75. Unfortunately this didnt pan out. The golf course is beautiful. I just didnt execute.
Late on Friday, the world No1 Dustin Johnson completed a high-profile exodus from Wisconsin. Johnson added a 73 to his Thursday 75, thereby missing the cut by three. Only three months ago, an imperious Johnson appeared unbeatable. He has since missed the Masters through a freak accident and, via different circumstances, now been forced to watch another major weekend on television. I couldnt have shot any higher, Johnson said. I couldnt possibly shoot any higher than I did. I just struggled on the greens. Its simple.
As McIlroy, Johnson and Day exited, Casey kept his dream of a first major win alive. Its not every day you can enjoy a round with an eight on the card but Im a happy man, Casey said. Casey has recorded three consecutive top-six finishes in the Masters but has only one top-10 in the US Open in 13 attempts, which came a decade ago at Oakmont.
It feels good, the 39-year-old said. It shows what can happen if you get out of position on this course. Even just trying to take my medicine is very difficult. Its a good eight in the end.
Australias Adam Scott also failed to progress to the weekend.