By Simon Lewis
Rory McIlroy's late charge for US Open glory came up short at Chambers Bay on Sunday night as Dustin Johnson held a slight advantage over his overnight co-leaders heading into the back nine and Shane Lowry's hopes faded.
World number one McIlroy had started the final day eight shots off the lead held at four under par by Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Branden Grace. Even he had dismissed his chances, the Irishman saying Saturday night he would need a “spectacular” final round after a dismal putting performance in a third-round level-par 70 left on four over par.
Yet with USGA officials introducing some player-friendly pin positions for the final round and reducing the yardage on a number of holes to make them driveable, McIlroy saw a glimmer of hope and the four-time major winner attacked Chambers Bay with relish.
He was bogey free and six under for his round when he birdied the par-four 13th to move to two under par, just three off the lead held by Johnson. But McIlroy stalled on the par-three 15th and 17th, taking bogey at both and missing a birdie putt on the par-four 16th. He missed the green at the 15th for bogey and then three-putted from 43 feet at 17, eventually settling for a four-under 66, matching the best rounds of the day. It was impressive but not quite enough to trouble the leaderboard, McIlroy finishing at level par for the week as the leaders jockeyed for position approaching the turn.
“When I look back, obviously the last few holes of this golf course haven't been kind to me all week,” McIlroy said. “And when I look back at this tournament that's where I'll rue some missed opportunities. I feel like it's sort of one that got away, especially the way I putted this week. I don't think I've ever hit the ball as well in a major championship.”
Fellow Irishman Lowry had started the final round in a much better position than McIlroy at one under par, just three shots off the four-way tie at the top and with serious ambitions of landing his first major title.
Bogeys at the par-three third and par-four fifth knocked those hopes a small bit and though he birdied both the sixth and eighth, bogeys took back both gained shots at the following holes. Lowry, though, was showing some good mental strength and he rebounded again at the par-four 10th with a birdie that took to one over for his round, level for the tournament.
The problem was Johnson. The American who missed the second half of last season due to leave of absence taken to resolve personal problems, was looking set to finally land his first major having blown chances at the 2010 US Open and the same year's PGA Championship.
This year's WGC-Cadillac champion was six under at the turn, two under for his round and two clear of Masters champion Spieth and Grace with playing partner Day a shot further in arrears at three under.