Rory McIlroy aiming to continue bounce-back ‘theme’ following US Open heartbreak

Rory McIlroy believes he can continue the “theme” of his career and bounce back quickly from his heartbreaking loss in the US Open at Pinehurst.

McIlroy briefly held a two-shot lead with five holes to play but bogeyed three of the last four, missing from two feet and six inches on the 16th and three feet and nine inches on the last to finish a shot behind Bryson DeChambeau.

It was the 35-year-old’s best chance to win his first major since 2014 and brought back memories of squandering a four-shot lead in the final round of the 2011 Masters with a closing 80.

McIlroy celebrates with the Claret Jug after winning the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club
McIlroy celebrates with the Claret Jug after winning the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club (David Davies/PA)

McIlroy recovered remarkably quickly to win his first major in the US Open two months later and will hope he can repeat the trick in next week’s Open Championship at Royal Troon.

“I look back on that day [at Pinehurst] just like I look back on some of the toughest moments in my career and I’ll learn a lot from it and hopefully put that to good use,” McIlroy said in a pre-tournament press conference ahead of his title defence in the Genesis Scottish Open.

“It’s something that’s been a bit of a theme throughout my career, I’ve been able to take those tough moments and turn them into great things not very long after that.

“It’s been a while since I’ve won a major but I felt worse after some other losses. I felt worse after Augusta in ’11 and I felt worse after St Andrews [2022 Open]. It was up there with the tough losses but not the toughest.

Rory McIlroy and manager Sean O'Flaherty
Rory McIlroy speaks with his manager, Sean O’Flaherty, during the Genesis Scottish Open Pro-Am (Malcolm Mackenzie/PA)

“The way I’d describe Pinehurst on Sunday was it was a great day until it wasn’t.

“I did things on that Sunday that I haven’t been able to do the last couple of years, took control of the golf tournament, held putts when I needed to – well, mostly – made birdies and really got myself in there.

“It was a tough day, it was a tough few days after that, but as you get further away from it happening you start to see the positives and all the good things you did throughout the week.

“There’s learnings in there too. I can vividly remember starting to feel a little uncomfortable waiting for my second putt on 16 and the putt on the last was a really tricky putt and I was very aware of where Bryson was off the tee.

“I knew I had to hit it really soft. If the one back didn’t matter, I would have hit it firmer. Knowing that Bryson had hit it left off the tee, I just sort of wanted to make sure that if there was still a chance at a play-off, that it was at least going to be that.”

McIlroy admitted the course layout meant he became too aware of what DeChambeau was doing in the group behind, and also felt that he started taking too long over his pre-shot routine.

“I stewed on what happened at Pinehurst for a couple of days, but then, thankfully, I can go home and look at what I’ve achieved in the game and sort of feel OK about myself,” he added.

“It was a great opportunity. It passed me by but hopefully when I get that next opportunity, it won’t pass me by. [Troon] is just another opportunity. I’m playing great golf and it’s another opportunity to see how I can hopefully handle it better than I handled it a few weeks ago.”

McIlroy offered a staunch defence of caddie Harry Diamond, who came in for criticism from Tiger Woods’ former coach Hank Haney and former PGA Tour player and on-course commentator Smylie Kaufman.

Rory McIlroy hugs caddie Harry Diamond
McIlroy celebrates the winning putt with caddie Harry Diamond on day four of the 2023 Genesis Scottish Open (Jane Barlow/PA)

“It’s certainly unfair,” the Northern Irishman said. “Hank Haney has never been in that position. Smylie has been in that position once.

“Just because Harry is not as vocal or loud with his words as other caddies, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t say anything and that he doesn’t do anything.

“I just wish that these guys that criticise when things don’t go my way, they never say anything good when things do go my way.

“Someone said to me once if you would never take advice from these people, you would never take their criticisms, either. Certainly wouldn’t go to Hank Haney for advice. I love Smylie, but I think I know what I’m doing, and so does Harry.”

McIlroy also insisted he had no regrets about leaving the course without congratulating DeChambeau in person or speaking to the media, adding with a smile: “No offence, you guys were the least of my worries at that point.”

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