Rory McIlroy saw another winning opportunity disappear over the early stages of his final round at the US Open on Sunday night as Bryson DeChambeau closed in on a maiden major title at Winged Foot.
McIlroy, the 2011 US Open champion and four-time major winner, was far from the only one to suffer as the chase got underway to reel in the lead pairing of DeChambeau and overnight leader Matt Wolff. As the leaders made the turn, only DeChambeau was under par for his round as Winged Foot played to its toughest.
The ninth hole had turned the contest into what looked like a two-horse race, DeChambeau sinking an eagle putt from a little under 38 feet to move to five under par for the tournament and Wolff matching his fellow Californian from 10 feet to reach four under, four clear of the field.
Yet Wolff, at 21 bidding to become the youngest US Open winner since Francis Ouimet in 1913, bogeyed the par-three 10th and par-four 14th while DeChambeau birdied 11 and made a big par save at 14 to open a four-shot lead four to play. As impressive as the play was from DeChambeau, 27, his deliberate pre-shot process was almost as frustrating as watching McIlroy see another chance at a first major victory since 2014 slip from his grasp.
On Saturday, as he signed for a 68 that put him right back in the title mix on one over par, six off Wolff’s lead, McIlroy had stressed the importance of getting through the difficult opening holes of his final round unscathed. Easier said than done, the Irishman’s bid to end his six-year drought began to unravel early on Sunday as he three-putted the first from 85 feet, a victim of the slopes on what he had described as “probably one of the craziest greens on the course and in golf”.
Hit it on the middle green, take two putts, was McIlroy’s stated mission but it turned out to be a pipe dream. He took a double-bogey six instead. Bogeys followed at the fourth and seventh and though the Irishman clawed back shots with birdies at nine and 11, McIlroy bogeyed the par-four 15th and fell further off the pace.
While McIlroy faded, Shane Lowry was reflecting with some frustration on how big-hitting Wolff and DeChambeau had moved to the top of the leaderboard with little regard for whether or not they found the fairway.
Yet as the Open champion left Winged Foot following a closing 72 for this week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Galgorm, he refused to believe their bomb and gauge strategy was marking a victory for distance over even the toughest US Open set-up.
Lowry, who finished 15 over but was one under for his final 15 holes, said: “People have to realise even though they’re probably some of the longest hitters in the world, they’re still the best golfers. You still have to be able to control your ball, you still have to be able to chip and putt, and that sets up well.
“If it was just about hitting the ball long, the (specialist) long drivers would be out here playing in these major championships and they’re not.”
Meanwhile, 2019 Amateur champion James Sugrue received the Irish Open invitation he had been hoping for on Sunday. The Mallow golfer had exited the US Open still in the dark as to whether he would be playing this week but he was added to the European Tour event’s entry list and Sugrue tweeted: “Galgorm next week for the Irish Open. Thanks to @EuropeanTour for the invite. I can’t wait!!”