Rory McIlroy played down his disappointment at another near-miss in a major as he reflected on a “positive week” at the US Open.
McIlroy forced his way into a tie for the lead before his final-day challenge was scuppered by two card-wrecking holes shortly after the turn, but he insisted he will leave Torrey Pines with further encouragement that an end to his seven-year major drought is within sight.
Ten years on from his record-breaking US Open win at Congressional, McIlroy raised hopes of doubling up when he holed a long-range birdie putt at the fourth and ground out six straight pars to stay in the thick of contention.
But a three-putt bogey at the 11th was followed by a messy 12th hole, where he carved his second from the rough into an awful position, plugged on the downslope of a greenside bunker, from where he could only stab his second into another bad lie on the lip of an adjacent trap.
The resulting double-bogey six left him four shots off the lead, and although he revived his chances with a birdie at the long 13th having shaved the hole with his eagle putt, another bogey at 16 effectively ensured his major drought would continue.
“It’s been a positive week,” said McIlroy after signing for a 73 which saw him finish five behind champion Jon Rahm. “I gave myself a great chance today. Even through 10 holes, I was right in the thick of things. It was really two holes that basically stopped the run at the title.
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“I played well. I felt comfortable with what I was doing out there. I felt like tee to green I was really solid for the first few holes, but once I made those little mistakes on 11 and 12, I felt like I was just chasing a little bit, and then ultimately I couldn’t really get anything done from there.
“But overall it’s been a good week. I put up a good fight and started the round well today. With the three-putt on 11, that stopped the momentum, and then I got a little unlucky on 12 and made double from there. Take those two holes out, the rest of the week was really good.”
McIlroy feels his game has improved dramatically since he missed cut at the Masters shortly after linking up with swing coach Pete Cowen, and the 32-year-old believes he is only a few “subtle tweaks” away from rediscovering the form that took him to the top of the world rankings early last year.
“It sometimes feels further away than it actually is, but going from walking away Friday night from Augusta to being right in the thick of things in the back nine of the US Open, it hasn’t felt like it’s been a quick turnaround, but I’m definitely on the right path,” he added.
“I feel way more comfortable with what I’m doing way out on the course, especially in a situation like this. You’re trying to win a major championship on a Sunday. The way I hit the ball tee to green out there today, I just felt much more comfortable and in control of everything than the previous few times that I’ve been in this position.
“I feel like now I know what to do to play well and I know I have the tools to play well, and it’s just a matter of execution and sticking to what I’ve been working on.
US Open Golf
June 21, 2021, 8:00pm
“It was way better today, even if the score doesn’t suggest it. There were two holes that were the end of my title hopes, but apart from that this week, it’s been really positive. I’ll think a lot about the way I played on Saturday and how I hit it tee to green, I think I gained over five strokes on the field tee to green.
“So I have to take the positives from this week. Yes, it is disappointing that I had a chance and didn’t get the job done, but considering where I’ve been the previous few majors, it’s a big step in the right direction.”
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