The trouble with winning so quickly is that losing can feel worse than it actually is.
British Open stuns Rory McIlroy, even though he says it’s not life or death, This would have hurt his 80-plus in the final round of the 2011 Masters. He was only 21 at the time, without a major, when talent exceeded expectations.
But then he won the US Open later that year with a record score in Congress. He won the PGA Championship the following year in Kiawah Island. And two years later, he added his name to the Claret Jug at Royal Liverpool and won another PGA Championship only four weeks apart.
Four majors in four years. Only three other players in the last century had that many players aged 25 or under – Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
McIlroy is now 33 and still has four majors, not to mention some gray hair around the edges. His popularity is now as great as it was then, if not more.
McIlroy has now achieved 30 majors since winning his last match. Perhaps more surprising is that the British Open was on the leaderboard after 54 holes for the first time during that drought.,
He did a little wrong, and even less right. Imagine being part of a 54-hole lead in a major, hitting every green in regulation and still not winning. McIlroy kept each green two-two. He made a two put birdie after driving the beat on two fifth fifth and par-4 10th.
The hole actually appeared to shrink when Cameron Smith ran a straight five birdie to start the back nine and took the lead. “I had to dig deep to make a birdie and I couldn’t,” McIlroy said.
Just don’t assume that McIlroy was the only player who left St Andrews – along with two other Majors this year – feeling like he should have won.
It seemed only because a lot of people wanted him to win.
Save a thought for Cameron Young.
He swung into Gores on an unreachable par-4 ninth and converted the birdie into a bogey. Young missed a 6-foot birdie on the 15th. He wasted a big, bold tee shot on the 16th when his wedge was cut short and rolled down the ridge. His two shots on the 17th were better than McIlroy’s, only to reduce his birdie chances. And for any occasion that needed something special, he drove on the 18th green and had a 15-foot eagle putt that was only good for a silver medal.,
He’ll have as many “what if” moments as McIlroy. And that’s just from St Andrews. Young, this year’s best PGA Tour rookie, also scored a three-put double bogey on the 16th hole to complete a shot at the PGA Championship playoffs.
Will Zalatoris was not a factor at St Andrews. He had to settle for a pair of runner-up finishes in the Majors this year.
Three-putted from 20 feet on the 16th hole at the Zalatoris PGA Championship in Southern Hills. He was injured after losing in the playoffs To Justin Thomas. And then to the US Open in BrooklineHe missed a 15-foot putt on the final hole to force the playoff.
One player stands above the others, and it is the product of expectations. Jordan Spieth knows the feeling. He won the Masters and the US Open, was one step away from the playoffs at St Andrews for the third leg of the Grand Slam, and finished runner-up in the PGA.
This is a once in a career exposure in majors. In his third year as a pro, Spieth was 21. Good luck getting on that, though it’s a good problem.
Does it make it worse or better that McIlroy was the only player to finish in the top 10 without a win at all four majors this year? The last player to do so was Ricky Fowler in 2014, a distant memory because Fowler has not won a major (and is now on the verge of falling out of the top 150 in the world rankings).
There is some truth to McIlroy’s immediate assessment on Sunday evening. He beat him more than he lost.
Smith scored 30 on the last nine – Jack Nicklaus (1986) and Gary Player (1978) did so when they won the Masters – and his 64 was the lowest closing score by an Open champion at St Andrews. In one of the great closings in Open history, it beats 65 by Phil Mickelson when he won at Muirfield in 2013.
“I just have to position myself, put myself out there,” McIlroy said.
Worse than not winning at St Andrews, the last eight years had rarely placed itself in that position. Only three times in his last 29 majors has he started the final round close to five shots behind.
“Whenever you put yourself in that bright light, you have to deal with setbacks and deal with setbacks,” he said. “Today is one of those times. But I just have to dust myself off and come back and keep working hard and keep believing.”
He has eight months and three weeks until the Masters, his next opportunity. The same awaits for Zalatoris and Young, with two exceptions.
He is not Rory McIlroy. And they don’t know what they are missing.
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