Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, poses with the trophy after winning the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, June 19, 2011. McIlroy won the U.S. Open for his first major with a record setting 16-under 268. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
So who came into Sunday thinking the U.S. Open wasn’t over quite yet? Who thought Sunday in Bethesda might end up like Sunday at Augusta? Who said “uh oh” after Lee Westwood birdied the first hole and looked poised to make a run at the unproven Northern Irishman?
My guess is that there was plenty of doubt in people’s minds when 22-year-old Rory McIlroy walked up to the first tee on Sunday, despite all that he had accomplished through 54 holes.
He never trailed. He increased his lead each day. His swing was silky smooth and his putter was rock solid. But what about his nerves? What about people’s doubts? What about his doubts? Was an eight stroke lead safe in the hands of a kid just two and half months removed from his 22nd birthday?
You better believe it.
It only took three shots to know that this major championship Sunday would be anything but a meltdown. Rory McIlroy was simply magnificent. His birdie on the first hole left no doubt that this U.S. Open was indeed over. Sure, there was still a lot of golf to be played, but that birdie sent a message to the rest of the field saying, “don’t even think about it.”
He continued to hit great shots despite his big lead. He didn’t want to cruise to victory, he wanted to dominate. He may not have the demeanor of a Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus, but don’t think for a second that this kid doesn’t have a killer instinct. He let his game do the talking.
Speaking of talking, how about some of the reaction from other tour players following his eight-shot win at Congressional.
“Nothing this kid does ever surprises me,” said 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell. “He’s the best player I’ve ever seen.”
And this from Phil Mickelson. “You could tell that Rory’s had this type of talent in him for some time now and to see him putting it together is pretty neat to see.”
Even Tiger Woods couldn’t help but congratulate McIlroy after his dominating performance saying, “What a performance from start to finish. Enjoy the win. Well done.”
Now, I’m not going to start comparing Rory to Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus, or anyone for that matter, but this win can’t be overlooked. What he was able to accomplish over the course of four days in what is widely known as the toughest test in golf, was nothing short of impressive. And to think, had he hung on at Augusta, he would be heading to the British Open with the first two legs of the grand slam already under his belt.
His talent is undeniable, but so are the lessons he has learned. Maybe he doesn’t win the U.S. Open had he won the Masters. With all great golfers, we can always look back to one turning point in their career that catapulted them into stardom. Some may say it was this past weekend’s U.S. Open. I, however, will forever argue that it was the Masters. It was that tournament when Rory McIlroy realized just how good he could be, but that talent alone isn’t enough to win. You have to know how to finish.
That Sunday at Augusta was probably the longest round of golf he’s ever played. But each and every tormenting minute made him a little bit stronger. He felt the pain, frustration, and even embarrassment of a Sunday collapse in a major. And that’s a feeling he never wanted to feel again.
After seeing him this weekend…I can’t imagine he ever will.
Content from the Associated Press was used in this article.