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McIlroy's two missed short putts cost him a shot at U.S. Open title

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, waves after making a putt on the 10th hole during the final round of the U.S. Open golf tournament Sunday, June 16, 2024, in Pinehurst, N.C. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) — Rory McIlroy put himself in position to end a decade-long drought in the majors, and answer a whole lot of questions about his ability to get it done, only to miss two short putts Sunday that left him peeling out of the parking lot in disappointment.

McIlroy signed for a 69 that left him 5 under for the championship, and had to watch on TV in the scoring room as Bryson DeChambeau finished behind him. The big-hitting DeChambeau did what McIlroy could not — got it done around the green — when he got up-and-down for par from 55 yards in a bunker short of the 18th green for a 71 and a one-shot victory.

“Rory is one of the best to ever play. Being able to fight against a great like that is pretty special,” DeChambeau said. “For him to miss that putt, I’d never wish it on anybody. It just happened to play out that way.”

McIlroy wasted no time making his escape. He climbed into an SUV in the players’ parking lot, his clubs loaded in the back, and briefly spun the tires in the gravel as he left without taking any questions from the media.

His silence spoke volumes about how crushing this loss must have felt.

“At the end of the day we are all human,” said Matthieu Pavon, who finished fifth. ”He is one of the best players in the world, a true champion. It shows you how tough it is.

"The more you want it, the tougher it gets, and the highest expectation you have for yourself, the tougher it gets, the more pressure you got into. Maybe this is a little bit of pressure that got him today for sure, but Rory is just a massive champion. I’m sure he will fight back and really soon.”

The first putt Sunday that McIlroy will rue until his next chance in a major — maybe the rest of his career, if he never wins that fifth one — came at the par-4 16th hole. He was clinging to a one-shot lead over DeChambeau, hit a towering iron to the middle of the green, then hit a nice lag putt to 30 inches — and missed, for his second consecutive bogey.

The second came about 30 minutes later, when McIlroy walked toward the 18th green tied for the lead. He had chopped to the front of the putting surface after getting a bad break off the tee, his ball hard up against some wire brush, and proceeded to hit a pitch up the slope toward the hole. But his par putt from three feet, 9 inches, slipped on by for one last bogey.

That shot proved to be the difference.

The 35-year-old McIlroy was runner-up at Los Angeles Country Club last year, too, and said afterward: “I would go through 100 Sundays like this to get my hands on another major championship.” He now has finished in the top 10 of the U.S. Open each of the past six years, including a tie for fifth two years ago at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.

McIlroy also was second at the Masters two years ago, and tied for second at the British Open in 2018. He lost a great chance at St. Andrews in the 2022 British Open. With each miss in the majors, the pressure grows on the Northern Irishman to end a drought dating to the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla.

He was in the hunt from the opening round at Pinehurst, shooting 5-under 65 on Thursday. He came back to the field a bit with a second-round 72, but rebounded with a 69 that put McIlroy with Patrick Cantlay in the penultimate group on Sunday.

The two had feuded during the Ryder Cup last year in Italy, but there was no lingering animosity. In fact, the two wished each other luck on the first tee, then got down to the business of trying to win one of the toughest tests in golf.

McIlroy was up to the challenge off the tee all week. He tied for third in fairways in regulation, missing the penal native areas as well as anyone until the 18th on Sunday, and he finished second only to DeChambeau in driving distance.

Yet it was on the slippery, turtle-backed, downright diabolical Donald Ross-designed greens that his U.S. Open was lost.

McIlroy played the first 69 holes of the championship without missing a putt inside four feet; he proceeded to miss two in his last three holes. The first of them was the first time he had missed a putt under three feet all season, and the second short miss left McIlroy to watch DeChambeau raise the trophy that he won himself 13 years ago.

“He’ll win multiple more major championships. There’s no doubt,” DeChambeau said. “That fire in him is going to continue to grow.

"I have nothing but respect for how he plays the game of golf because, to be honest, when he was climbing up the leaderboard, he was two ahead, I was like, ‘Uh-oh, uh-oh.’ But luckily things went my way today.”

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

News from © The Associated Press, 2024
The Associated Press

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