‘Horrendously difficult’: Padraig Harrington on Rory McIlroy’s stunning U.S. Open misses

Bryson DeChambeau might have won the U.S. Open on Sunday, but Rory McIlroy didn’t lack for headlines, either — and for all the wrong reasons.

With four holes to play, it was McIlroy’s tournament to lose. DeChambeau was a stroke behind, and he wasn’t playing his best golf. His driver kept finding the wiregrass, and he wasn’t making birdies nearly as frequently as his nearest challenger. Barring an epic meltdown, it seemed as if McIlroy would finally end his major drought.

Two hours later, McIlroy watched on from the scoring area as DeChambeau brushed in a par putt to secure his second U.S. Open title. Despite playing the finishing stretch in one over, DeChambeau was the victor once again. And his biggest ally on that closing stretch was McIlroy’s putter.

On the 16th green, McIlroy missed for the first time all season inside three feet as he lipped out his potential par putt. Two holes later, he missed yet again inside four feet, catching the low side on a nervy downhill four-footer.

“A devastating loss for any player — not just Rory,” said Golf Channel analyst Paul McGinley.

It’s been a common refrain in the days following McIlroy’s collapse, not only because he let the trophy slip away but also for how he let it slip away. The misses came from a distance that would be conceded in a Saturday morning game. But in the U.S. Open, nothing is guaranteed — and it cost McIlroy dearly.

Those misses will be remembered for quite some time, by both McIlroy and the golf-watching public, with replays of those moments being shown anytime McIlroy gets into contention.

Those misses will also surely haunt McIlroy — especially on 16 — but the putt at 18 wasn’t quite so simple. Putting from above the hole at Pinehurst No. 2 is always difficult, and on a baked-out Sunday there may be no worse spot from which to putt.

“I couldn’t believe the miss on 16,” three-time major winner Padraig Harrington told GOLF’s Michael Bamberger earlier this week. “I could see it all day on 18. It was a horrendously difficult putt. I know it was only four feet, but the quality of the greens at that hour — they’re burnt out, they’re dry, people have been walking there. He was aiming four inches left of the hole or so.”

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As for the speculation that McIlroy fell out of his normal putting routine down the stretch, Harrington, who was not in the Open field last week, said:

“I don’t know whether he took too many waggles, too many looks or too little looks,” he said. “But Rory will know, and he can have a look at that and see whether that was the issue. He’d be the only one that would be able to tell whether it was a case of if he was playing catch up in his routine. That’s probably the worst thing you can do in a routine is you’re in the middle of it and you’re trying to catch up to what am I meant to be focused on? Whereas if you know what you’re doing at the start of your routine and it leads to that point, you’re more likely to be into it.”

Harrington said that a year ago at Los Angeles Country Club, the putting surfaces were not nearly as difficult as they were at Pinehurst. The lines on those greens were so manageable, Harrington said, that he didn’t even mark a putt inside three feet all week. Going from those conditions to Pinehurst would make any player’s head spin.

“Looking at [Pinehurst’s] greens, I just tell you what, there would have been me standing over hoping somebody would come in and say, ‘It’s good,'” Harrington joked. “You’d be looking at it and you’d be rattling your coins hoping that somebody would say, ‘Yeah, go ahead. That’s good.'”

Unfortunately for McIlroy, you’ve got to hole everything out at the U.S. Open. And because of it, he’s still searching for his first major in more a decade.

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