Even in context of the dramatic narrative which encapsulates Rory McIlroy as standard, events on Saturday at Oakmont stood out.
Unfortunately for McIlroy – and the look on his face was of a level of abject dejection not visible for three years – the rollercoaster halted at its lowest point. It was not supposed to be this way for the four-times major winner; a missed US Open cut, less than a month after McIlroy endorsed his seasonal promise with victory at the Irish Open.
The early exit had not been predicted. Far from it, in fact, as McIlroy – when four under for the round – stood over a lengthy eagle putt on the 17th, his 8th. The Northern Irishman could make only a par there but still reached the turn in 31. He was in the midst of a leaderboard charge, pulling increasing gallery support on the way.
As McIlroy took to the 9th tee, he needed a par to make the cut on the number of six over par. A drive into a fairway bunker was troublesome enough before McIlroy left the ball in the sand trap, still 158 yards from the flag. Cue a near miraculous hole out from the fairway for a par but, most pertinently, ultimately a double bogey which meant one painful consequence. An inward half of 40 appeared to shock and disgust McIlroy in equal measure as he beat a hasty retreat to the car park. In his previous nine major starts, McIlroy had finished in the top 25 each time.
McIlroy has failed to survive for the closing stages of majors only five times in 30 appearances, three of that quintet coming in the US Open. Muirfield’s Open Championship of 2013 witnessed his last major missed cut before now, with that at least explainable as being in the midst of a dire run of form.
The seeds of McIlroy’s upcoming turmoil were sewn at the 3rd, where he four putted from 12ft for a double bogey. This rocked the 27-year-old to a level from whence he could not recover. And yet, it was only in the dying embers of his round that a 36-hole tournament was a sudden reality.
There was also a missed cut for McIlroy’s playing partner, Rickie Fowler, for the third time in a row. This marks only the second time in Fowler’s career he has endured such a troublesome sequence. Thankfully, the third member of this marquee grouping, the Masters champion Danny Willett, survived for the belated round three on Saturday afternoon. So, too, did Jordan Spieth.
Phil Mickelson’s quest to claim his holy grail will have to wait for at least another year. The 46-year-old needs only the US Open to complete a grand slam of major championships and arrived in Pennsylvania in fine spirits. Scores of 74 and 73 meant Mickelson finished on the wrong side of the line by a stroke; when completing his second round early on Saturday morning, the five-times major winner actually believed he would comfortably survive.
“I felt like it was a very fair set-up,” Mickelson said. “If you played well, there were pins you could get to. You could make some birdies. There were some very challenging pars.
“I actually thought I played really well, except I let four or five par putts kind of slide and all of a sudden I’d be two over and right in trouble. You can’t do that here because you don’t have those birdie opportunities to offset those mistakes. I didn’t have very many birdie opportunities.
“My irons don’t feel bad but they’re just a fraction off. Instead of hitting it 15 feet, giving myself chances, I’m 30ft, 40ft and fighting just to make par.”
At least Mickelson reappeared. Henrik Stenson, who was 10 over par after 16 holes of his second round, having opened promisingly with a 69, took a flight home to Florida rather than completing 36 holes. The Swede later cited “minor” neck and knee problems. Others will make up their own mind.
Justin Rose did have legitimate injury worries before the second major of the year, rendering his premature exit no real shock. The 2013 champion closed at plus eight. Rose’s compatriots Paul Casey and Luke Donald suffered the same fate.
The United States Golf Association announced on Saturday that this tournament will return to Oakmont, for what will be a 10th time, in 2025. The following year the US Open will head once again to Shinnecock Hills.
“Bringing the US Open Championship to Oakmont for the 10th time in 2025 is testament to the quality of this fine golf course and the longevity of the strong relationship the USGA has with the club,” said Diana Murphy, president of the USGA. McIlroy may hope for a diary clash.
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