BROOKLINE, Mass. “What do we think of Rory McIlroy?”
It’s hard to call him an underachievers when he won 21 tournaments in his career, including four major championships, and will enter the World Golf Hall of Fame on skates.
Trouble is, it’s been eight years and counting since McIlroy won the last of those four major championships, the 2014 PGA Championship.
And McIlroy, not just an astute historian of the game but one of the most honest athletes in the sport, knows that elite players like him are measured in legacy by the number of majors that appear on their career resume.
His fifth-place finish at this week’s US Open, four strokes behind winner Matthew Fitzpatrick, marks 29 major championships McIlroy has contested without lifting equipment since that 2014 PGA win at Valhalla.
“Yeah…another top five in a major,” McIlroy said. “I guess it really doesn’t mean anything.”
This week’s 122nd US Open at the Country Club was McIlroy’s 11th top five in a major and his 22nd top 10.
McIlroy insisted that his mantra for the majors is not “win or lose”, but then quickly added: “I guess when I look back, will I remember the fifth place I had at Brookline? Probably not.”
It’s not like he’s gone down to a 10 handicap since that PGA win in 2014. McIlroy has won 13 times since then, and those wins include two Tour Championships, two World Golf Championships and a Championship. players.
They are not exactly discrete, low-field events. No disrespect, but it’s not the Sanderson Farms Championship, the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, or the QBE Shootout. They are not opposite events.
These are the creme de la creme events, the ones that enhance legacies.
What they are not, however, are major championships.
“I played well enough to give myself a chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I haven’t done the job, but I’m closer than I’ve been in a while, which is good.”
But not enough, and it hurts.
“It’s not close enough yet,” McIlroy said. “There were a few holes there today where I birdied and then I did the reverse once back with the bogey on the next one. To win golf tournaments, you just can’t I can’t do that. But it’s there. It’s close. I just have to be patient.
“I still have a start next week in Hartford before going to the open championship. I have one more chance this year to try to get that major.
McIlroy said “it will probably take some time” to soak up the positives from this week.
“I will consider this another missed opportunity, just like Southern Hills was (in the PGA Championship last month when it finished eighth), but missed opportunities are better than not having a fight at all,” he said. he declared. “So that’s a positive. I have to be patient at this point because if I keep getting into position, sooner or later it’s going to be my day and I’m going to have one.”
He spoke like a player still looking for his first major, but that’s how McIlroy feels in those eight long years.
Although McIlroy – as complete a player as there is in the game, married with one child, as much money as he will ever need – has a healthy outlook on life, he wants more from his golf. He wants more major championships.
He tried everything.
Entering this week, he attempted a renewed mental approach.
“I think I have to go with the mindset this week that I’m going to try and win my first again,” McIlroy said earlier in the week. “I play golf as well as I have played in a long time. I have a lot of experience. Yes, I’ve won major championships and other big events, but… just because I did that doesn’t mean I’ll land better golf shots or putts.
“I am well placed. I’m really happy with where my game is, and I think that’s the most important thing.
McIlroy won the RBC Canadian Open last week and came to Boston feeling like he was ready to break through again, to win that coveted fifth major.
He said Sunday, entering the final round three shots off the lead, that he was going to have to shoot a 65 or 66 “to get the job done.”
He shot 69 and lost by four.
“I just wasn’t comfortable enough to do that,” he said. “I always feel like I played well and shot a good round of golf, but not well enough.”
Maybe it will be good enough next month at St. Andrews.
“My game is in good shape,” he insisted. “I have one more chance this year to try and get that major.”