BROOKLINE, Mass. — After pushing his approach shot right of the green on the third hole at The Country Club on Friday, Rory McIlroy ball was buried in thick heather as high as his knees. He swung his wedge violently, but the ball moved only about a yard.
McIlroy looked down and wiped his face before swinging again. The ball popped about six inches into the air and fell back to the ground. McIlroy backed away from his ball, composed himself while playing partner Xander Schauffele took his next shot, and then swung again.
This time, on McIlroy’s fifth shot on the 496-yard, par-4 hole, McIlroy’s ball landed about 23 feet past the hole. He made the putt for a double-bogey 6.
Just like that, McIlroy went from 3-under to 1-under in the second round of the 122nd U.S. Open. It seemed like his chances of ending an eight-year drought without a major championship victory were slipping away again.
“I mean, you’re only 2-over for the day,” McIlroy said. “It wasn’t disastrous. …Yeah, I knew I was going to have chances, so I didn’t panic. I didn’t do anything stupid. I didn’t force anything. I was rewarded with that patience by playing a really good back nine.”
McIlroy, a four-time major champion, recovered to card a 1-under 69. His 36-hole total of 4-under put him in a tie for third, one shot behind co-leaders Collin Morikawa and Joel Dahmen.
“I made two bad swings [on Friday],” McIlroy said. “I made a bad swing on the second shot on 3, and I made a bad swing on the tee shot on 10, and limited the damage as much as I could. Those two holes cost me three shots. But I stayed patient, and I knew I was going to give myself chances if I just hit the ball the way I have been hitting it. Today was a really good example of just having a good attitude.”
McIlroy had birdies on the fifth hole, when he nearly drove the green, and the eighth, when he hit his approach shot over the green and chipped to 3 feet. He made the turn at 1-over 36 in the round.
After bogeying No. 10 to fall back to 1-under in the tournament, McIlroy made a 15-footer for birdie on No. 12 and added two more on Nos. 14 and 17.
“After 36 holes in a major championship, that’s all you want to do is put yourself right in the mix going into the weekend,” McIlroy said. “For a little part of the day there, it seemed like I was going to be a few more behind, but I dug deep and played the last eight holes really, really well. That was the goal.”
With so many familiar names on the leaderboard — defending U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm is also tied for third and world No. 1 and reigning Masters champion Scottie Scheffler is 2 shots back-McIlroy knows he still has plenty of work to do.
Last week, McIlroy held off PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas and Tony Finau to win the RBC Canadian Open, the 21st victory of his PGA Tour career.
“It’s why we play,” McIlroy said. “I sort of said it after Canada last week when I was with JT and Tony. You want to go up against the best to try to bring the best out of yourself. And to see Collin and Jon and Scottie and Sam [Burns] up there and whoever else, that’s what major championship golf is all about. That’s what competition is all about.
“I certainly don’t want it to be easy. I want guys to go out and shoot 65 so I have to go and shoot 64. That’s competition, and that’s at the heart of this game. I’m excited to be in that mix going into the weekend.”