US Open 2022: Rory McIlroy chases the composure of his youth as he eyes his first major crown since 2014

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US Open 2022: Rory McIlroy chases the composure of his youth as he eyes his first major crown since 2014

BROOKLINE, Mass. – In a way, Rory McIlroy has been chasing his 25-year-old self for the past eight years. He is now 33 years old and has not won a major championship since the summer he turned 25.

On Saturday at the 2022 US Open, McIlroy will face off against three iterations of this former self as he tries to jumpstart his big championship career.

Colin Morikawa (25), Scottie Scheffler (25) and Jon Rahm (27) have four majors combined, the same number as their sport’s now oldest statesman. Morikawa is a shot ahead of McIlroy, Rahm is next to the Ulsterman and Scheffler is one behind. They have Rory surrounded.

McIlroy almost threw out this US Open before it got really good. After shooting 67 and sitting back a shot on Thursday, he led along as his second round began on Friday. Rory started par-par, but the No. 3 disaster resulted in a 25-foot putt for double bogey, which he buried.

He danced from 1 under to 2 under and back again for most of Friday, conjuring up visions of the PGA Championship in Southern Hills that he had within his grasp until he didn’t anymore, dancing in fans’ minds.

A bogey in 10th place pushed McIlroy back down to 1st and everything seemed to slip away. At that moment he thought, “I just wanted to try and shoot under par [on the day].” Three birdies going home without bogies over the last eight holes meant he just barely made it.

McIlroy charged the back nine to shoot 69, a solid continuation of his 67 that put him 4 under and a back of a lead shared by Morikawa and Joel Dahmen.

McIlroy seemed tense all week, in part because He carried the weight of a sport with him. But it’s clear he feels this is his best chance in several years to add to his vast collection. McIlroy is a bloodhound when it comes to tracking down important moments and he’s taken advantage of almost everyone he’s thrown his way into.

However, it has been a long time and he knows that winning this event in 2011 will not help him win this US Open.

“I think I have to go out this week with the attitude that I’m going to try to win my first again,” said McIlroy. “I’ve been playing golf better than I have in a long time. I have a lot of experience. Yes, I’ve won big championships and other big events, but… just because I’ve done it, it doesn’t mean I’m hitting better golf shots or that I hit better putts.

“I’m in a good place. I’m very happy with where my game is and I think that’s the most important thing.”

The freedom on the court that McIlroy was chasing is found in the hearts of Morikawa, Scheffler and, to some extent, Rahm.

Will McIlroy swear to what these guys embody – what he once embodied better than anyone else – over the weekend?

Morikawa and Scheffler and Rahm have a youth’s ability to gallop because they don’t yet know that they might get tired. For years, McIlroy hasn’t seemed sure if he can trust himself enough to let himself go. Now? Well he seems ready.

“You want to compete against the best to get the best out of yourself,” McIlroy said. “And to see Collin and Jon and Scottie and Sam [Burns] up there, and whoever, that’s what Major Championship Golf is all about. That’s what competition is about.

“I definitely don’t want it to be easy. I want the guys to go out and shoot 65, so I have to go out and shoot 64. That’s competition, and that’s at the heart of this game. I’m looking forward to being part of Mix going into the weekend.”

When McIlroy feels himself and the moment, everything looks fluid.

Hit or hit or pound other players. Rory flows. Certainly his momentum, but also his whole ethos. His presence runs fill big championships.

On Friday, there was a 10-minute stretch that epitomized this as McIlroy finished his lap with playing partners Xander Schauffele and Hideki Matsuyama. An analog ranking with the crooked letters SCHAUFFELE danced right over McIlroy’s shoulder as he filled the 17th cup with his fifth and final birdie of the day to move to 4 under.

McIlroy strutted to the 18th tee where, while waiting a long time for the group in front of him, he juggled golf balls handed to him by Schauffele’s caddy. The juggler who would soon switch to the carotid artery.

As McIlroy gained momentum at the end of his lap, he moved across the property with the freedom of the water.

All of which begs the question: can you flow at a US Open this weekend while carrying so much of your past and watching so many young stars not having to carry that burden?

As the sun faded on this rugged old course, McIlroy was asked on Friday if he could play with Freedom at Brookline. An old look crossed the four-time major champion’s face.

“First time in a long time,” he said pointedly.

The weekend will tell.

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