If Rory McIlroy’s golf really is all about his state of mind, it is little wonder the odds on the 30-year-old winning a second US Open title had come crashing down by Monday morning.
McIlroy heads to Pebble Beach, where the third major of 2019 begins on Thursday, having decimated the field at the Canadian Open. Weekend rounds of 64 and 61 meant the Northern Irishman prevailed in Ontario by seven. He is now, suddenly, the short‑priced US Open favourite in many outlets.
McIlroy heralded his second victory of the year – he also won the Players Championship – as the more significant. “I think this time it’s more of an affirmation of what I can do when I play with complete freedom,” he said.
“At the Players Championship I sort of had to grind it out. Conditions were tough. You’re hanging on, playing into the right spots and I felt like this week I was free. I trusted myself 100% and I hit the shots when I needed to.
“This victory probably gives me more confidence than the one at the Players because I played the way I did and I was so free out there, especially given the position I was in.
“I think when you get to the US Open setup it can make you play carefully, a little tentatively and try to guide it down the fairways. But if I’ve learned anything this week it’s my game is good enough and swing is good enough that I can play with freedom. Look, I’m not going to go and hit driver on every hole, but when I pull a club out of the bag I’ll make a really good, committed swing and know for most part it should work out for me.”
Pebble Beach and the Canadian Open venue in Hamilton have poa annua greens in common and, McIlroy believes, plenty more. He looked ahead to the US Open drawing comparisons. “To be comfortable hitting different clubs off different tees, hitting different shapes, you need to do that. And the rough was pretty penal [in Canada]. It was pretty thick. I’m guessing the rough next week may be a little longer, but you needed to hit fairways this week to give yourself a chance to shoot a low score.
“I did that, and I think that’s the reason that I played so well was the fact that I put myself in the fairway for the most part. I’m going to need to do the same again next week.”
McIlroy’s success on his debut in Canada came the week after a missed cut at the Memorial tournament in Ohio. That, he insists, merely illustrates the fine margins in the upper echelons of his sport. “I think that’s the thing that people don’t quite understand with golf at this level,” he said.
“If I made a couple extra birdies on the back nine on Friday I would’ve made the cut and could have produced a weekend like this and won the tournament. You never know.
“That’s why I always say I never try to get too carried away when I’m playing good and I never get too carried away when I’m playing badly. Both of those instances are not far away from each other. I think something like this is always around the corner and something like what happened last week, a missed cut, is always around the corner, too. I feel like my consistency this year has been great.”
A 16th PGA Tour triumph and cheque for $1.37m meant McIlroy had little cause to be upset with missing out on a final round of 59. When nine under par after 14 holes on Sunday, that target was within view. Ultimately he bogeyed the last from a greenside bunker when a birdie would have elevated him into rare sub-60 territory.
“I was a little nervous over the six‑iron going into the last. Last time I had a putt for 59 was at the Bear’s Club where I play in Florida, I think it was the week before the Masters in maybe 2016. I left it short.
“It came into my head when I was hitting the bunker shot, I’m definitely not leaving this short. So I wish it had been a putt for 59 instead of a bunker shot, but I gave it a go, I was aggressive, and at least got it to the hole.”