Rory McIlroy: ‘I’ve described Pinehurst on Sunday like it was a great day until it wasn’t’

World No 2 opens up about his final round collapse at the US Open ahead of this week’s Scottish Open

Rory McIlroy speaks in a press conference ahead of the Genesis Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club in North Berwick. Photograph: Harry How/Getty Images

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and all of that. Certainly, nobody can question Rory McIlroy’s resilience. He’s overcome adversity before, bounced back stronger each time, and is very much alive – and up – for this latest challenge.

And whatever of the world number two’s experience of his late, final round collapse in the US Open at Pinehurst last month, there was renewed resolve on offer ahead of his defence of the Genesis Scottish Open this week at The Renaissance Club as McIlroy sought to use what happened there to add strength going forward.

McIlroy, who withdrew from the following week’s Travelers Championship and playing on a happy hunting ground on the Scottish eastern seaboard for the first time since losing his grip on a US Open trophy that instead went Bryson DeChambeau’s way, has headed into the Scottish Open – a PGA Tour event – with a period of reflection and as sure as ever of the pathway forward.

This title defence comes ahead of next week’s 152nd Open Championship at Royal Troon, perfect timing in truth.

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Of that reflection on his US Open travails, which saw him depart the course in haste without a word to anyone, not even to DeChambeau, McIlroy admitted: “I’ve described Pinehurst on Sunday like it was a great day until it wasn’t. I did things on that Sunday that I hadn’t managed to be able to do in the last couple of years. Took control of the golf tournament. [Holed] putts when I needed to; well, mostly when I need to. Made birdies. Really got myself in there. And then obviously to miss those last two putts, on 16 and obviously the putt on 18, it was a tough few days after that.

“But I think as you get further away from it happening, you start to see the positives and you start to see all the good things that you did throughout the week ... there’s learnings in there too, right?

“I can vividly remember starting to feel a little uncomfortable waiting for my second putt on 16 and, you know, the putt on the last, it was a really tricky putt and I was aware of where Bryson was off the tee.

Rory McIlroy reacts after missing finishing the 18th hole during the final round of the US Open at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. Photograph: Jared C Tilton/Getty Images

“I knew I had to hit it really soft. If the one back didn’t matter, I would have hit it firmer. But because I was in two minds, I didn’t know whether Bryson was going to make a par or not, it was one of those ones where I had to make sure that if the putt didn’t go in, that it wasn’t going 10 feet by, which it very easily could have.

“I just left [the chip shot] on the wrong side of the hole. I got above the hole. Where the hole was cut was on top of the little slope, and ended up pretty dry and crusty around the hole. And the chip shot just ran out a little bit and got past the hole. I hit that putt very, very easy, and obviously just missed on the low side, and it still went a good three or four feet by.

“So I was probably playing it, I don’t know, like two, two and a half cups left, whatever it was, three-and-a-half-foot putt. There was a lot of swing to it, especially with how easy I was hitting it. Like I said, if it was match play and the next one didn’t matter I would have approached the putt differently. But 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 playoff, that it was at least going to be that.”

Even for someone like McIlroy, who has four Major titles among a career that has yielded 26 wins on the PGA Tour and some 40 professional wins worldwide, there is always another chance to learn and to put experience into the bank.

“When I look back on that day, just like I look back on some of my toughest moments in my career, I’ll learn a lot from it and I’ll hopefully put that to good use. It’s something that’s been 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.”

Indeed, the most vivid example of that came in 2011 when McIlroy lost a 54-hole lead in the Masters only to rebound at the very next Major, the US Open, which he won in impressive style at Congressional.

McIlroy also hit back at criticism from Hank Haney, the former coach to Tiger Woods, of his caddie Harry Diamond. Haney had questioned the clubbing of McIlroy on the par-three 15th at Pinehurst, where he flew his tee shot over the green which resulted in a bogey – the first of three in that four-hole closing stretch – as he lost his lead and was overtaken by DeChambeau.

“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. These guys that criticise when things don’t go my way, they never say anything good when things do go my way,” said McIlroy in standing by his friend.

Genesis Scottish Open lowdown

Purse: €8.35 million (€1.49 million to the winner)

Where: North Berwick, Scotland

The course: The Renaissance Club – 7,237 yards, par 70 – was designed by the noted American course architect Tom Doak and first opened for play in 2007. Located on golf-rich terrain between the iconic Muirfield and the old-school North Berwick, the course was created on land which featured some 300 acres of pine forest (of which only a few feature trees remain after felling). In recent years, a land swap arrangement with the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (Muirfield) enabled an enhancement of its links effect with three new holes built along the coastline, the stretch from the ninth to the 11th. There are just two par fives (the third and 10th) on the course’s layout which also features five par threes.

The field: Given its place in the calendar a week ahead of the 152nd Open and its added significance of being a links course and in a tournament co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour, the Scottish Open has again gathered together an exceptionally strong field, headed by world number two and defending champion Rory McIlroy. US PGA champion Xander Schauffele, a winner in 2022, is also part of a very strong field that also welcomes local hero Robert MacIntyre, runner-up to McIlroy a year ago and who has since made his breakthrough win on the PGA Tour.

Quote-Unquote: “Overall acclimation. Hitting the putts a little bit harder. When you’re playing chips, trying to position yourself on holes, even though you’re short-sided, as long as you’re into the wind, you have to start thinking that way again. And then the lag putting is really hard. You’ll be on the front of the pin and the pin will be on the front, and you have 50 feet, you pace it off, and you’re, like, dang. Whereas back home, pin to front of the green you have 15 feet or 18 feet. Getting used to those small things” – Xander Schauffele on the importance of playing links golf the week before The Open.

Irish in the field: A quartet of Irish players feature, with Pádraig Harrington first out (7.55am) for the start of a big three weeks of a links stretch that also takes in next week’s Open at Royal Troon and the following week’s Seniors Open at Carnoustie. Séamus Power (8.28am) has a last chance to earn an exemption to Troon, with three tickets to the Open on offer. Rory McIlroy (8.28am, off the 10th) and Tom McKibbin (12.59pm) are also in the field.

Betting: Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele – winners for the past two years – head the market at 8-1 with Collin Morikawa and Ludvig Åberg each at 14-1. In terms of each-way value, however, it might be worth looking further down the market to Brian Harman at 40-1 while Ryan Fox looks decent value at 66s.

On TV: Live coverage on Sky Sports Golf from 8.30am.

Amundi Evian Championship lowdown

Purse: €7.3 million (€1.3 million to the winner)

Where: Evian-les-Bains, France

The course: The Evian Championship Course – 6,527 yards, par 71 – is the centerpiece of the resort located on the shores of Lake Geneva at the foot of the Alps.

The field: It is a Major, the fourth of five on the LPGA Tour this year, so the field is packed with the top players with eyes on glory and especially significant given its run-in to the women’s individual strokeplay at the Olympics in Paris. World number one Nelly Korda dominated the early part of the season with six wins in a seven tournament stretch (including a Major, the Chevron) but has missed her last three cuts and also suffered from an unfortunate dog bite, so will be looking to regain that earlier form.

Quote-Unquote: “I think I’ve gone through every emotion possible, and it’s just July, on the golf course. You know, I love this game. I love the bad, I love the good. The bad makes you appreciate the good and that’s just how it is. It’s sports. If you care so deeply about it you’re just going to go through the wave of the roller coaster. I have a great team, amazing family that keep me grounded and keep my perspective positive. They all lift me up even when I’m down and they make sure that we all stay very, very grounded and very, very humble, because sometimes you can get a little too ahead of yourself. But the game humbles you enough itself, which I learned a great deal recently. That’s what I love about. Even if I’m not playing well I’m going to go out and give it a 100 per cent and go back and word harder and did the same thing. So I’m really lucky to have the support system that I have, and they’re the reasons why I am still here” – Nelly Korda on focusing on her golf again.

Irish in the field: Stephanie Meadow is grouped with Lindy Duncan and Jodi Ewart Shadoff (8am Irish time, off the first), while Leona Maguire – bringing the momentum of her win in the Aramco-London last week – is in a marquee group alongside Hinako Shibuno and Albane Valenzuela (12.12pm Irish time).

Betting: Nelly Korda is the 8-1 favourite although her form has dipped of late with Atthaya Thitikul at 12-1 and Lilia Vu priced at 14-1. Canadian Brooke Henderson is something of a course specialist and is available at 25-1 while Maguire, back inside the world’s top-30, looks good value each-way at 45-1.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports Golf (from 11am).

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times