It would take something extraordinary for Rory McIlroy to claim the victory he arrived at Chambers Bay in pursuit of.
There has, though, been another one of sorts; the controlling of emotions in the midst of golf’s most frustrating environment. It was not always thus.
McIlroy turned to his caddie, JP Fitzgerald, when walking from the 18th green and remarked. “Thank God I have got one of these.” The reference was to his 2011 US Open triumph. In his last two appearances at this event, McIlroy lies at an aggregate of 10 over par. He is 48 under for the five majors played around them, starting at the 2013 US PGA Championship. Talk about contrasting fortunes.
The McIlroy klaxon had sounded after nine Saturday holes. He reached the turn in 33, moving to two over par and firmly in position for a tilt at glory having negotiated the toughest part of the course.
What followed summed up the world No1’s volatility. Almost without fail, it can be linked to performances on the greens. “It’s just hard to stay patient whenever I’m not holing anything,” the 26-year-old said. “I feel mentally I’ve accepted most things this week, which is good.”
The precise run went something like this: simple birdie chance that lips out on the 10th, three-putt on 11, missed birdie opportunities at the 12th, 13th and 14th. McIlroy failed to save par at the 15th, moving him back to the four over score he started the round at. Birdie putts at 16 and 17? Say no more.
“I’m just in a bad habit of turning good scores into average ones at the minute and that’s why I’m in the position I’m in,” admitted the Northern Irishman.
“I would say that the putt on 10 was the real momentum stopper. I hit it really close there. That’s a pin position where if you get it within 20ft of the hole, you are going to be happy. To get it within 3ft and miss that, it sort of stopped any momentum that I had.
“On those three holes I let a few shots slip and couldn’t recover, even though I gave myself plenty of chances on the way in after that.”
The mitigating circumstance relates to course condition. Players have lined up to castigate the greens at Chambers Bay, with Henrik Stenson memorably likening them to broccoli. “I don’t think they’re as green as broccoli,” said McIlroy with a smile. “I think they’re more like cauliflower. Look, they are what they are, everyone has to putt on them.
“It’s all mental. Some guys embrace it more than others, and that’s really the way it is. It is disappointing that they’re not in a bit better shape.”
Sergio García signed for a third round of 70 and offered his own analogy. “To me, this is like playing the NBA Finals on a court with holes and slopes and no backboards,” said the Spaniard and Miami Heat fan.
There was a clear counter-point to this rising level of complaint. Jordan Spieth, arguably the finest putter in the world, was coping perfectly well. That much was illustrated by back-to-back putts from 25ft on the 2nd and 3rd on Saturday.
Jim Furyk also issued a defence of sorts on behalf of Chambers Bay. Furyk did not enjoy a particularly pleasant day three, carding 73 to move to seven over after 54 holes, but took exception to the suggestion that the quality of a leaderboard mirrors that of a venue. “If Tiger Woods wins when he’s in his prime, then it’s a reflection of a great course; and if a guy that’s ranked 150th in the world wins, it’s not,” said Furyk. “It’s a real slap in the face to a guy that might not be ranked that well but had a good week and played well.”
Ian Poulter’s third round of 69 leaves him at plus four. Colin Montgomerie, who like Poulter made the cut by a single shot, added a 72 for seven over. Montgomerie’s subsequent gripe related to gallery experience.
“I don’t think it is fit for purpose,” said the Scot of Chambers Bay. “You have to think of the spectators as well at $125 a round. My wife added up she saw 15 shots yesterday and they are from a long way away. It’s not really a spectator-friendly course at all.”
The most epic volley of all arrived from someone who is not even competing. Gary Player, a nine-times major champion, took to television to brand the construction of Chambers Bay as a “tragedy” for amateur golf.
“An average golfer playing this golf course? I’m telling you, if he’s a 15, 16-handicap, he’s going to shoot 110 and he’s not going to go home a very happy man,” Player added.
“We’ve got to make golf where it’s quicker, where it’s more enjoyable, get back to their family. We don’t want a husband and wife to argue because he’s taking too long and neglecting his family life.” All Player had been asked was “How are you?”
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