The Rory McIlroy saga continues at the Genesis Scottish Open

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After a crushing defeat, McIlroy returns to the site of his thrilling victory

Written by Cameron Morfit


Then he walked along the High Line, a man alone with his thoughts.

Rory McIlroy had already planned to spend some time in New York City, so he did: He spent three days in Manhattan as he went about the slow process of rebuilding his life after the worst moment of his career. A few people recognised him, but most left him alone, his AirPods shutting him out from the world.

“It was nice to get a little bit of a feel for the city,” McIlroy said Wednesday from the Genesis Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club. They were his first public comments since finishing runner-up in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, marking his 11th top-five finish in a major since he last won one (2014 PGA Championship), and the second straight U.S. Open in which he finished one spot behind.

“I was alone with my thoughts for a couple of days, which was nice,” McIlroy said of his trip to Manhattan after the Open. “I had some good chats with people close to me, and when you start thinking about not just Sunday at Pinehurst but the whole week, I noticed a couple of things I wanted to try to work on over the last few weeks before coming here, and obviously next week at Royal Troon Golf Club.

“They were tough but at the same time, as the days went by, it became easier to focus on the positive and then think about the future instead of what just happened.”

Rory McIlroy misses two costly short putts at US Open

Maybe you watched McIlroy lose the U.S. Open. Maybe you got carried away by his quest because, season after season, sequel after sequel, you remain the worst kind of fool and the best kind of audience.

“Did you just fall?” your wife asked at the worst possible moment, from the kitchen, and yes, you let your legs buckle because of McIlroy’s inexplicable mistake on the 16th.

“Rory just missed a 2-foot putt,” you said.

It’s falling apart againYou didn’t add it, because that wouldn’t be nice or helpful.

Plus, technically, it was 2 1/2 feet, but when McIlroy missed from 4 feet on the final hole, you knew Bryson DeChambeau was going to walk through that open door. McIlroy’s two-shot lead with five holes to play had been cut to three bogeys in his final four holes. The game was over, but it was good news for the sequel. Frodo and the ring. McIlroy and No. 5.

After winning four majors between 2011 and 2014, he has only found ways to lose them. You struggle to find a comparison to another sport. You wonder how McIlroy, who repeatedly and passionately claims to be a much better player than he was a decade ago, can’t repeat his previous success at the majors. You wonder if maybe you’re laughing a little too. You really hope he doesn’t read this.

How much is there to remember? How much is there to forget?

These are the questions McIlroy is asking himself as he prepares to defend his title at the Genesis Scottish Open, 25 days after what he described as his lowest point as a professional.

“It was a great day until it wasn’t,” he said. “If anything, I’d say my pre-shot routine got a little longer. I started looking at the target a few more times over the ball.”

He also started looking back at DeChambeau, he added, which was partly due to the course layout at Pinehurst, he said. That was also a mistake.

“I didn’t stay in my own little world for 18 holes,” McIlroy said. “But really, other than that, there’s not a lot I would do differently.”

The focus will be on McIlroy, who will play alongside Robert MacIntyre, whom he edged out by one stroke at last year’s Genesis Scottish Open, and Viktor Hovland in the first two rounds this week. The attention will intensify next week, when he makes the 169-kilometre jump to Royal Troon for the Open Championship and attempts a fifth major again. We are nearing the end of the 10th season of this unscripted drama, a game of cat and mouse that, for all its twists and turns, outshines everything else on television.

Rory McIlroy makes back-to-back birdies to win Genesis Scottish Open 2023

At 35, McIlroy may be at a turning point. One photo from Pinehurst said it all: caddie Harry Diamond’s left hand on McIlroy’s back as he staggered to sign his card. Moments later, NBC showed the three-time FedExCup winner, his face grimacing in agony, watching the bitter end as DeChambeau made a par save from the front bunker that was anything but routine but seemed fated nonetheless.

McIlroy, a man struggling with himself, left the course without comment.

“The one word I would use to describe my career is resilience,” he said in a statement the following day. “I have proven my resilience time and time again over the past 17 years and I will do so again.”

He withdrew from the Travelers Championship, deciding to take some time to “process everything and rebuild myself.” And then he disappeared into the masses of Manhattan, just another human in a sea of ​​them. Walking. Thinking. He’d done a lot of things right at Pinehurst; he’d have to hold on to that. It was a great day until it wasn’t.

At least this week, he can take solace in the fact that The Renaissance Club was the scene of one of his most inspired victories: his sensational 5-iron tee shot on the par-3 17th and a scalding 2-iron into a ferocious wind on the 18th. His two improbable birdies were enough to edge out MacIntyre and claim victory in a wind that bent the flags.

“To finish two or three times like I did,” McIlroy said. “You know, everyone talks about the 2-iron on the last hole, but the 5-iron I used on 17 was just as good, or even a little bit better. To hit two irons like that and make the putts I needed was unbelievable. In some ways I felt bad that I did it at Bob’s expense, but at the same time it was amazing to win a tournament I’d never won before.”

Reflecting on happier times was a reminder that all is not lost, even though it may sometimes seem that way.

Just two weeks ago, Akshay Bhatia missed three putts and lost the Rocket Mortgage Classic. McIlroy acknowledged Wednesday that he had lost tournaments before. The one that came to mind, he said, was the 2008 Omega European Masters in Switzerland, where he missed a short putt in a playoff.

“You think about all of them,” he said. “And I was probably more devastated after that because it was my rookie year… I hadn’t won yet. I remember feeling really bad after that for a week.”

And yet McIlroy, winner of 26 PGA TOUR events, three FedExCups, five Race to Dubai (DP World Tour) titles, plus so many domestic Opens that he has struggled to keep up, has done well ever since.

“I was thinking about what happened at Pinehurst for a couple of days,” he said, “but then, yeah, thankfully I can go home and look at what I’ve accomplished in the game and feel good about myself. Yeah, look, it was a great opportunity. It slipped away, but hopefully when I get the next opportunity, it won’t slip away.”

When McIlroy was a curly-haired teenager, if he had been offered everything he has at this stage of his career, he almost certainly would have taken it. He is also around the age when some players of his generation, including newly enshrined World Golf Hall of Famer Padraig Harrington, were claiming first place at major tournaments. McIlroy still has plenty of at-bats ahead of him and knows he can access the good times, not just the bad. He need only recall last year’s Genesis Scottish Open, where he executed a clever mental trick.

“Yeah, for some reason, walking into the 17th hole, the 2013 Australian Open came to mind,” he said after last year’s final round. “I was a hole behind Adam Scott with two holes to play. We were playing in the same group. I holed a great par putt on 17 and was a stroke behind on the last hole, and then he bogeyed, I birdied and was able to edge him out by a stroke…

“All those memories and those experiences stay with you,” he added, “and that gave me a good feeling going into those last few holes to try to do something special.”

How to hit a goal like Rory McIlroy

He just needs to do that in a big way, you want to tell him, but then he knows.

He knows golf is a mental game, and he knows his accumulation of failures in front of the world will make his success all the sweeter if (when?) it finally happens. You know it, too. That’s what happened when the Boston Red Sox finally got there in 2004: tears of joy for the long-suffering faithful.

All those memories and experiences will stay with you.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t feel like the luckiest person in the world to get up every morning, be healthy and follow my dream,” McIlroy said. “There are videos of me at 7 years old saying I want to be the best player in the world and I want to win all the majors. Being able to try to make that little 7-year-old proud every day is something I don’t really take for granted.

“I am very grateful for the position I occupy in life.”

The ring floats in plain sight, spinning and tumbling, attracting and repelling, always within McIlroy’s reach and always just out of reach.

“It’s there!” you want to shout, but no one can hear you.

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