Rory McIlroy and the US Open, he will never escape – even if he tried

PINEHURST, N.C. – Within seven minutes of Bryson DeChambeau's ball landing in the cup, the ripping sound of tires drifting across the pavement screeched through the Pinehurst Resort as Rory McIlroy's Lexus SUV pulled out of its parking spot for the U.S. Open champion of 2011 rode and rode away from the day he will never escape. He stared into the distance as his agents and caddy talked around him. No job interviews. The 35-year-old Northern Irishman simply threw his clubs and gym bag in the trunk, slid into the driver's seat and put it in reverse. The US Open ended at 6:38 p.m. At 7:29 p.m., McIlroy's Gulfstream 5 took off, leaving the Sandhills of North Carolina with his fifth major championship, but with the collapse that will forever define him.

Just 90 minutes earlier, McIlroy staggered down the 14th fairway, ready to redefine his career. Ten years without a major. Ten years of pain and close calls, a man who had won four majors by the age of 25, falling short again and again. And here he was, with five holes to go at the US Open, putting him ahead of Bryson DeChambeau and the field by two strokes.

But Rory McIlroy didn't win the 2024 US Open.

Three bogeys and a pair of missed putts from three feet later, McIlroy lost to DeChambeau. This will be remembered far better than any of his four wins.


Munching on a nutrition bar as he walked off the 14th tee, McIlroy leaned over to peek at the 13th green to his right. McIlroy had a two-shot lead as he had just birdied 13 while DeChambeau – who played in the final group leading the 54 holes – had bogeyed No. 12. But DeChambeau put his drive safely on the par-4 13th with a putt for eagle, and McIlroy wanted to take a look. DeChambeau eventually made birdie to get within one.

McIlroy came in three shots behind DeChambeau on Sunday at Pinehurst. He wasn't supposed to win this, but apparently he was going to take it. For 13 holes we saw the version of McIlroy that many have been advocating for over the past decade. He looked like a murderer, or some version of one. He opened with a birdie on the first hole and birdied Nos. 9, 10, 12 and 13 with long putts. He was winning this major.

But golf is not a sport for the premature formation of stories.

He parred No. 14. Then he made bogey on the par-3 15th after overshooting the green, but that was acceptable. It was one of the toughest holes of the day, and DeChambeau bogeyed it as well.

It was on September 16 that fear struck. McIlroy had a simple-looking par putt from two feet. And he missed. It wasn't really close, around the left edge. Still, McIlroy remained on a mission to stay calm. The moment he missed, he placed both palms flat to signal 'calm down'. Yet a familiar sentiment was whispered in Pinehurst No. 2. Not again.

And no matter how hard he tried to steel himself, McIlroy sent his tee shot on the par-3 17th into the left bunker. Thanks to him, he hit a beautiful, soft throw from the sand and saved par.

But what happened next indicated that it may have been over much sooner than it actually was.

McIlroy put his putter back in his bag, leaned over to grab his driver, his eyes bulging in a fearful grimace. The game plan was out the window. The thoughts that brought him here were gone. He flew blind.

Look, McIlroy had a plan this week. He talked about it almost every day from Tuesday to Saturday. Boring golf. Disciplined golf. Bogeys will happen, so never get nervous. “I just try to be super stoic,” McIlroy said Tuesday. “I just try to be as even-keeled as possible.” And he was for 71 holes, through everything. His tournament could be defined by how impressive that stance was, making the kind of ugly, tough par saves he historically lacked.

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But sometime between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, McIlroy stared into the headlights, unwilling to look away. He was a different golfer now. His eyes looked as if they were replaying every heartbreaking scenario and fulfilling them in turn. Maybe we should have known then.

So for some inexplicable reason, McIlroy took out the driver. Why, oh why, did he want his driver? The day before, he hit a 3 wood and left just a 133-yard wedge. There was no need for extra length on the 449 yard hole. Perhaps McIlroy, arguably the best driver of the golf ball in recent memory, thought this would be his signature moment. Maybe he chased even though he was tied up. Anyway, McIlroy initiated a drive too far left, into the infamous Pinehurst home range, just before a patch of wire grass. He had no game. He hit a clumsy little roller out to the front of the green. And again, his short game came with a nice little chip to within three feet of the 18th pin.

He missed. Again.

It was as if Bill Buckner let a second ball pass through his legs. There is no explanation, nor any defense. McIlroy's short, soft-hit putt immediately broke to the right and drove over the right edge of the hole. Rory McIlroy had just bogeyed three of the last four holes to give away the 2024 US Open, leaving room for Bryson DeChambeau to earn it with an incredible up-and-down run from the 18th bunker to take the title. If McIlroy makes both one-meter putts, he will win the US Open. If he makes one, he goes to a playoff. But he made neither.

McIlroy signed his scorecard in the score tent and watched the finish on TV with the faintest, faintest sense of hope. He ate another nutrition bar during DeChambeau's bunker shot. His hat sat loosely on his head before the final putt, hands on his hips. He took one last nervous, sickening gulp down his throat before the putt went in. When that happened, he turned, looked down, swallowed again, and followed him out the door. He gathered his things and headed to the Lexus.

The golfer known for his ability to speak eloquently on all topics declined to speak to the media. There was nothing more to say.


McIlroy's career started with a collapse. Only 23, he entered the 2011 Masters on Sunday with a four-shot lead, but shot a disastrous 80 to fade away. People will always remember that day, but two months later he won the US Open. It was the first of four majors in as many years. He looked on pace to chase the bigs.

He never won another major.

GettyImages 2157873538 scaled


Rory McIlroy had a two-shot lead with five holes to play Sunday. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

But unlike so many other sports figures who lit up brightly early on only to fade away, McIlroy's game didn't disappear. He has remained one of the three or four best players in the world for the past decade. He has won 26 PGA Tour events. Since then, he has finished in the top 10 of 21 of the 37 majors. By most metrics, the last three years have been his best. He just couldn't win. Most wouldn't even have called him a choker. First, he got off to a bad start and finished hot. For the past three years, someone else has taken it from him. At the 2022 Open Championship, he shot a great Sunday 70. He just couldn't hit the 50-50 birdies, and Cameron Smith did, shooting a 64 and stealing it. At the 2023 US Open he came in behind Wyndham Clark. They scored the same score on Sunday. He didn't give it away.

The 2024 US Open at Pinehurst? Rory McIlroy choked.

McIlroy has made some enemies in his time, and two of the people he has butted heads with the most are Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson, two players as synonymous with their epic collapses as they are with their eight combined majors. Norman is best known for his 1996 Masters disaster by six shots. Mickelson famously made a double bogey on the 18th hole at the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot to give it to Geoff Ogilvy. Now McIlroy will live with those two men forever.

There aren't many comparisons in sports to McIlroy's path. There are no other athletes or team dynasties that immediately won multiple titles but remained at the top of the sport became known as chokers at the end of their run. The Patriots won three more titles after the Super Bowl losses to the Giants. The core of the 2004 Yankees grew older, and five years later they won again. Jordan Spieth didn't give away any majors after his third major before the age of 24 – his play declined.

The hardest thing with McIlroy is always thinking he might get the next one. He's still that good. He has still finished second at a major in the last three years. And there's the idea that if he keeps putting himself into battle, the cards will eventually fall his way.

But something changed on Sunday. McIlroy is now 35, and perhaps muscle memory has faded over the past decade. How to put all your dreams into something and make it come true. How to prove a story wrong or how to take the perfect photo while thousands of fans live and die at every turn.

Rory McIlroy sped out of the Pinehurst Resort parking lot early Sunday evening, not just any broken-hearted man. He drove away as forever the man who missed those two putts.

(Top photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

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