LOS ANGELES — After a day and a half at Los Angeles Country Club, the third major of the year felt more like the U.S. Amateur than the U.S. Open. Then Rory McIlroy took his second shot on the par-5 eighth hole and the game began to take shape.
Just as the sun finally found the golf course it had been looking for for the past 36 hours, Rory swung a long iron over a large tree in his left hand, giving himself 20 feet for an eagle in 8 under. It’s unclear whether the USGA needed the Suns home more than McIlroy, but they both got their wish, and the 2023 U.S. Open is officially underway.
McIlroy made an easy two-putt for birdie and nearly dunked on the par-3 ninth. Another birdie there, and when he finished he was only one player behind on a field of 156 golfers. Only Wyndham Clarke (-9) beat McIlroy’s 8-under par after Friday morning’s surge.
After a lackluster 37 on his front nine, the golf course’s back nine, McIlroy’s chances of winning his fifth major seemed to hang in the balance. He needs to do something low on the front and he knows it. For the second straight day, he shot 30s in that portion of the course. At the U.S. Open, the former Hollywood (County Down, Northern Ireland) man played 18 holes on the front nine at Los Angeles Country Club for a total of 60.
“Obviously, at least for me, there’s a big difference in scoring between the front nine and the back nine,” he said. “The front nine gives you some chances to score and some wedges in your hands, a couple of par 5s, the 6th. Yeah, the back nine is tougher. … It feels like one you try to The golf course scores up front and then tries to hang on to it in the back.”
LACC receivedIn the first two days of the game. A common refrain is that it’s too easy, not last year’s U.S. Open, which apparently many hoped it would be. The second part is undoubtedly true, but the benefit of the USGA not applauding players with roughs like Brian Harman and fairways thinner than Joaquin Nieman is the way some of the best minds in the game have to think about them.
Perhaps no golfer in history has said the phrase “he just needs to…” more often than McIlroy. Walk around the field and everyone has an opinion. Fans, volunteers, other players and media. Oh, the media; if I could get those of us who cover sports to focus on what Rory needs to do to win his fifth major, I’d sell it on eBay and then at LACC Buy a house or two on the back nine.
Here’s the reality: Sometimes, even Rory doesn’t know what Rory needs to do to win a fifth. He tried different theories, he tried various strategies. Over the past nine years — from the 2014 PGA Championship to the 2023 U.S. Open — he’s basically tried it all. That gave him an astounding 18 top-10s in those 32 Grand Slam appearances, but frustratingly, zero wins.
Rory’s 65-67 start at the U.S. Open was his best in any major since the PGA Championship. He shot two consecutive rounds of 67 or lower in all four majors, and he went 4-0 to claim the trophy.
Whether the week ends with a win remains to be seen, but either way, McIlroy’s strategic plan is inspired. He seems energized by the creativity generated by the LACC, and he’s been changing speeds, often showing off his trove of artillery. Blowing driver, sure, and leading in strokes gained off the tee, but also third from tee to green.It is not only driver, as the course requires a variety of pitches.
McIlroy hit an iron on the 10th hole Thursday. On Friday, he hit the fairway woods. He held off, showing discipline and patience. This is perhaps a result of walking the LACC earlier this week with two different golf course architects to see how it plays. He hit the green on the par-4 sixth hole in the first round. In round 2, he hit the iron and fell back. Birded both days. He said after Friday’s bout that there was some thinking behind the plan.
“For whatever reason, I went on YouTube a few weeks ago and just recapped the 2014 Hoylake… I couldn’t believe how many irons and 3 woods I was hitting off the tee and whatnot stuff,” he said. “It reminds me of ‘You know how to do this. You know how to play smart. You don’t have to hit driver all the time.’
“Yeah, it’s a big weapon. It’s a big plus. But I keep saying, I feel like I have more weapons in my arsenal now, so I might as well use them and play around with them. I Already in the past few years, I’ve had times where I’ve not had enough patience and I’ve taken on too much. … But I think we’ve had some tests recently and you’ve got to show patience, hopefully Those experiences recently will help me this weekend.”
Watching highlights from Hoylake’s victory over Rickie Fowler in the Open was prescient. Fowler shot a 62 on Thursday and could lead the U.S. Open Friday night. They are likely to pair up on Sunday afternoon.
This week seemed to break McIlroy’s way. The clouds cleared as he walked home and his 67 was the closing spotlight, but it also served a different purpose as Rory found some rest time. It’s finally (finally!) going to reinforce a golf course that needs a little spice on a Friday afternoon. McIlroy won’t have to deal with it again for more than 24 hours, as his 8-under par will put him in one of the final third-round pairings.
“The pitch may be easier to play than people think, but [I] Wouldn’t be surprised to see it fight back on Saturday/Sunday, which … I think that’s what the U.S. Open is all about,” he said. “It’s supposed to be tough. It should be as much a mental grind as a physical one. “
It’s true U.S. Open time, and perhaps surprisingly, McIlroy has been successful the past few years, even if he hasn’t won.With four outstanding performances in a row, he may well be on the verge of becoming The second player of the past 40 years Five consecutive US Open top-10 finishes.
So, the remaining question is not whether his strategic persistence will end the next week on a high note again. This seems to be a foregone conclusion. No, the question now is, in a year or two, whether this week’s highlights from the Los Angeles country club are worth a five-time major champion’s rewatching on YouTube.
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