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US Open 2024: Rory McIlroy aims to exploit latest major opportunity after string of close wins

US Open 2024: Rory McIlroy aims to exploit latest major opportunity after string of close wins

PINHURST, N.C. — Rory McIlroy hasn’t won a major in a decade. It’s been a long slog that has seen numerous close calls, including two second-place finishes in the last two years alone. On Sunday, McIlroy will begin his final round at the 2024 US Open with a chance to finally break through if he can turn a winning chance into a triumph to lift the trophy.

McIlroy has finished in the top 10 20 times since his last major win, the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla. And while some of those finishes came amid very low Sunday rounds that resulted in back-door finishes on the leaderboard, it’s Rory’s proximity to the winner’s circle in recent years that has made his major drought particularly frustrating.

Five of McIlroy’s last 10 major starts have resulted in a T6 or better finish, including a second-place finish at last year’s U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club. This closely mirrors the situation McIlroy will face on Sunday at Pinehurst No. 2. He will be in the penultimate group as he was last year, and will be paired with another of the game’s top talents in Patrick Cantlay after play. Along with Scotty Scheffler in 2023.

The goal will be the same: chase the leader with a break-par score to put pressure on the last group as they make their way towards the club. McIlroy wasn’t able to do that last year, picking up a birdie on the first hole and a bogey on the 14th hole for an even-par final round of 70 before falling to eventual winner Wyndham Clark by one shot.

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“The pros and cons of being in the last group, and maybe playing one group in front might not necessarily be a bad thing,” McIlroy said after his 1-under 69 victory on Saturday. “I’m pretty much in the same position I was in last year on the last day at LACC. So, a familiar situation, I’ve been here many times before, and hopefully tomorrow I can produce the golf I need to do better.”

While the 2011 US Open marked McIlroy’s first major victory – as a 22-year-old at Congress Country Club – this major in particular was not an event that suited his style for much of his early career. McIlroy missed the cut five times in nine U.S. Open appearances from 2010 to 2018, and expressed this week that he felt he didn’t have the right approach to attacking the unique challenge the USGA presents to its national championship.

A change in mindset – one that embraces challenge and is willing to adopt a more conservative approach when needed – has led to much different results. McIlroy has finished in the top 10 in each of his last five US Open appearances, and he credits his change in approach.

“I don’t really think I’ve embraced the US Open setup probably 10 years into my US Open career,” he admitted earlier in the week. “I played my first match in 2009, and I think I changed my mindset about them in 2019, that one at Pebble, and since then – I’ve also started to enjoy that style of golf a lot more. It’s a lot different than the golf we play week in and week out. “

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This style of golf? It’s about showing humility on the field, playing conservatively at times but aggressively when you have the opportunity. Most importantly, it’s about knowing how to deal with adversity when you have a setback, trying to get to the middle of the green, giving yourself a chance on every hole but “take your medicine if you get stuck.”

Even within his efforts thus far here at Pinehurst, there are lessons to be learned and places to improve his conclusion. Two late bogeys (at No. 15 and No. 17) kept McIlroy out of the final showdown with Bryson DeChambeau and prevented him from being one shot away from the lead rather than maintaining the three-shot lead he faces on Sunday.

Overturning the results of these close calls and ending the decade-long Big Ten drought would lead to a better finish, while coming up with the shots needed when the championship is on the line late Sunday. If McIlroy can summon that distinction under pressure, he will put the final piece to the puzzle of his inability to capture the elusive fifth major.