Sunday 25 September 2016

'I've never hit the ball as well in a major championship' - Rory McIlroy rues missed chance

Phil Casey

Published 22/06/2015 | 02:30

Rory McIlroy celebrates his birdie putt on the 13th green yesterday
Rory McIlroy celebrates his birdie putt on the 13th green yesterday
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World number one Rory McIlroy felt he let a second US Open title slip from his grasp after a poor finish to his final round at Chambers Bay.

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McIlroy, who began the final round eight shots off the lead, had closed the gap to just two thanks to six birdies in his first 13 holes - only to drop shots on the 15th and 17th.

''I really thought after holing a long putt on 13, with 16 (a short par four) and 18 (a par five) coming in, if I could birdie those two holes and get to four under par I had a great chance with the way the greens were getting out there,'' McIlroy said. ''It would have been a number for the guys to really think about.

''When I look back, the last few holes have not been kind to me this week and that's where I will rue some missed opportunities. I feel like it's one that got away. I feel like I've never hit the ball as well in a major championship.''

As it turned out four under par was just one behind eventual winner and world number two Jordan Spieth, who closed the gap on McIlroy at the top of the rankings with his second major title of the year.

Spieth is now halfway to an unprecedented calendar grand slam, although McIlroy is in confident mood ahead of the defence of his titles in the Open Championship and US PGA.

"I take a lot of positives out of this," the 26-year-old said. "The long game is really in good shape. I've never hit the ball as good in a major championship for four rounds.

"I was really dialled in all week and confident with that. And if I can just get the putting a little bit better and roll a few more in and get a little bit of confidence with that going, I see nothing but positive signs for the next few months."

Meanwhile, the criticism of the condition of the greens continued, in particular the opening hole which was unforgiving and had earlier cost world number 16 Chris Kirk a sextuple-bogey 10 in a closing round of 78 to finish 21 over par - and last of the 75 players to make the cut.

Kirk, who won the Crowne Plaza Invitational last month, wrote on Twitter: "The U.S. Open is a great tournament with incredible history. The @usga should be ashamed of what they did to it this week.

"My score has nothing to do with why I feel that way, I played poorly. The course wasn't overly difficult, just tricked up."

Having missed the first green to the left, Kirk saw his first five attempts to negotiate a steep slope to the green roll back to his feet - and in one instance through his legs.

Compatriot Billy Horschel appeared to share Kirk's feelings after missing a short par putt on the sixth, the FedEx Cup winner swinging his putter in a chopping motion towards the green, but stopping short of making contact.

Good scores were certainly possible though, with Horschel eventually carding a 67, amateurs Nick Hardy and Brian Campbell both shooting 68 and Morgan Hoffmann and Thomas Aiken returning rounds of 66. Sergio Garcia also finished off well - hitting a closing 68 for a three-over total.

Afterwards, Horschel said players had "lost respect" for tournament organisers and the US Open due to the poor conditions at Chambers Bay.

The world number 20 insisted the players were not expecting perfection, but labelled the fourth green "God awful" and said the hole on the 10th was "literally in dirt."

"I've been waiting for this moment all week," Horschel joked as he spoke to reporters after a closing 67. "I can be up here for an hour and I'll keep going.

"I've had this debate on Twitter the last couple of days with people and it sounds like the players are whining and they're like, 'Well, you're playing for millions of dollars, you're playing for the US Open championship.

"And like I said, we're not looking for perfect greens. We're not looking for Memorial's greens or even last week in Memphis. But we're looking for something that's very consistent and this week they're not.

"Four is God awful. Ten is not much better where it was. That hole is in dirt. It's literally dirt. There's no grass around that hole. I understand Jordan (Spieth) is up on the leaderboard and he's making plenty of putts. But I'm a really good putter as well and I have not had a great week on the greens. And it's not due to the fact that my stroke is off or my speed is off, I've hit a lot of really good putts that have bounced all over the world.

"People out there think we complain a lot as players, and we don't. And when we do, I think we really need to be taken seriously on this. I think a lot of players, and I'm one of them, have lost some respect for the USGA and this championship this year for the greens."

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