GOLF

US Open 2022: Rory McIlroy continues the serenity of his youth while aiming for his first major crown since 2014

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BROOKLINE, Mass. — In a way, Rory McIlroy has been chasing his 25-year-old self for eight years. He is now 33 years without a major championship since that summer when he turned 25. He won two that season to match the two he already had, but it sat empty for the next 81 months.

On Saturday at the 2022 US Open, McIlroy will face three iterations of that old self as he tries to relaunch his career as a major champion.

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Colin Morikawa (25), Scottie Scheffler (25) and Jon Rahm (27) have four majors combined, the same number as their sport’s now oldest statesman. Morikawa is a jab at McIlroy with Rahm tied alongside the Ulsterman and Scheffler a back. They surrounded Rory.

McIlroy nearly kicked this US Open before it got really good. After shooting 67 and sitting a shot back on Thursday, he co-led by the time his second round began on Friday. Rory started par-par, but the No. 3 disaster led to a 25-foot putt for a double bogey, which he buried.

He danced from 1 under to 2 under and back for most of the day on Friday, conjuring up visions of the PGA Championship in Southern Hills, which he had within reach until he didn’t. , which dances in the heads of the fans.

A bogey on the No. 10 pushed McIlroy back to 1 under, and everything seemed to be moving away. At that moment, he thought, “I just wanted to try and shoot under par. [on the day]. Three birdies going home with no bogies on the last eight holes meant he made it, barely.

McIlroy pounced on the back nine to shoot 69, a solid follow-up to his 67 that put him 4 under and one behind a lead shared by Morikawa and Joel Dahmen.

McIlroy has appeared tight all week, in part because he carries the weight of a sport. But it’s clear he feels this is his best chance in several years to add to his large collection. McIlroy is a sleuth when it comes to sniffing out major moments, and he’s taken advantage of almost every one he’s played in.

It’s been a long time, though, and he knows that having already won this event in 2011 won’t help him win this US Open.

“I think I have to go with the mindset this week that I’m going to try and win my first again,” McIlroy said. “I play golf as well as I have in a long time. I have a lot of experience. Yes, I’ve won major championships and other big events, but…just because I’ve done That doesn’t mean I’ll make better golf shots or make better putts.

“I’m well placed. I’m really happy with the state of my game and I think that’s the most important thing.”

The freedom on the course that McIlroy sought is in the hearts of Morikawa, Scheffler and, to some extent, Rahm.

Will McIlroy invoke what these guys embody – this he once embodied better than anyone – over the weekend?

Morikawa and Scheffler and Rahm have a youthful ability to let themselves gallop because they don’t know yet that they might get tired. For years, McIlroy hasn’t seemed sure he can trust himself enough to let go. Now? Well, he looks ready.

“You want to compete against the best to try and get the best out of yourself,” McIlroy said. “And see Collin and Jon and Scottie and Sam [Burns] up there, and whoever else, that’s what major championship golf is all about. That’s competition.

“I definitely don’t want it to be easy. I want the guys to come out and shoot 65, so I have to go shoot 64. It’s competition, and that’s the heart of this game. I’m thrilled to be in this mix before the weekend.”

When McIlroy feels and the moment, everything feels like liquid.

The other players hit or kick or hammer. Rory sinks. His swing, of course, but also his whole philosophy. His short presence fills the major championships.

There was a 10-minute streak on Friday that embodied that as McIlroy closed out his round with playing partners Xander Schauffele and Hideki Matsuyama. An analog leaderboard danced with the twisted letters SCHAUFFELE just above McIlroy’s shoulder as he filled the 17th cut with his fifth and final birdie of the day to drop to 4 under.

McIlroy swaggered to the 18th tee where, during a long wait for the group ahead of him, he juggled golf balls handed to him by Schauffele’s caddy. The Juggler who would soon attack the jugular.

As McIlroy gained momentum at the end of his lap, he moved across the property with the freedom of the water.

All of this begs the question: can you spend the weekend at a US Open while dragging so much of your past with you and watching so many young stars who don’t have to deal with that burden?

As the sun was setting on the ancient steep course, McIlroy was asked on Friday if he could play free at Brookline. A look of yesteryear washed over the four-time major champion’s face.

“For the first time in a long time,” he said pointedly.

The weekend will be revealing.

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