MAMARONECK, N.Y. — Rory McIlroy tapped in his 3-foot putt and walked off the ninth green five hours and two minutes after he struck his first shot in the 2020 U.S. Open on Wing Foot’s famous 10th hole. The look on his face was not a frown, but he wasn’t smiling either.
The course was soft Thursday, and there was only a hint of a breeze moving the leaves in the massive oaks and maples around the West Course. It was a good day to score, maybe the best day the players will get this week, and Rory carded a 67. Justin Thomas shot 65 to top the leaderboard after the morning wave of players were done, so McIlroy was just two shots behind. Still, he did not appear impressed by what he had done.
“I definitely feel like I could have … I three-putted for par on six, and there were a couple other chances I let slip by, the three-putt for bogey on one,” he recalled after signing his card. “So there were chances there to maybe sneak another two or three out of the round. But at the same time, 67 here is always going to be a good score.”
He’s right. No one should ever feel disappointed by shooting a 67 in a U.S. Open at Winged Foot. But he’s also right that his score could have been better.
Ryan Holiday, one of McIlroy’s favorite authors, writes a lot about the importance of perspective in a person’s life. He would probably advise the 31-year-old new father to remember all the good things he did on Thursday. Like his first shot of the day, an iron from 207 yards out on the par-3 10th hole led to a 19-foot birdie. He should also remember hitting his tee shot on 13, a 214-yard par 3, to three feet to set up another birdie. And McIlroy should not forget his tee shot on the 329-yard, par-4 sixth hole, a driver that found the middle of the putting surface.
Holiday would also likely advise McIlroy not to dwell on the fact that he three-putted after that magnificent drive and had to settle for a par.
The most positive sign for McIlroy was his performance off the tee. He hit 9 of 14 fairways on Thursday and 15 of 18 greens in regulation. He was in control throughout most of the round and kept big numbers off his card.
“(Driving) was important today, and I did that well for the most part,” McIlroy said. “I still missed a few fairways, but I was able to recover from there. But I hit a lot of good tee shots, which I was sort of seeing a little bit in the latter stages of Atlanta, but it was nice to see it today.”
If he wants to win a second U.S. Open, he will need to keep driving the ball well. Adam Scott, who has played in every U.S. Open since 2002’s event at Bethpage Black, played alongside McIlroy on Thursday and put it this way. “If you’re missing four fairways each nine, you’re going to have a hard time. It’s very unpredictable. It’s hard to control and to leave yourself in a good spot for the next one. You really need to be playing from the short grass.”
There is a long way to go, and the course will get more challenging when the wind starts to blow. Rory McIlroy may not have been thrilled as he left the course, but he and his fans have plenty of reason to feel optimistic that he will be at Winged Foot.