IT'S by no means unusual for the defending champion to miss the cut at the US Open.
Yet Rory McIlroy's performance this week was as far enough removed from his record-breaking victory at Congressional last June to be described as stunning, even shocking.
No question, the Lake Course at Olympic was never going to fit McIlroy's eye or his ball flight ... especially with it playing as hard and fast as tradition demands at the US Open.
Nobody could live with McIlroy in Washington last summer after Mother Nature dumped enough rain on the golf course each day of the tournament to stymie any attempt by the US Golf Association to set up the course as they usually would.
So, the 23-year-old rewrote the US Open record books, spectacularly indicating that, in his element, he's almost invincible.
Yet move him out of his comfort zone onto a tricky golf course like Olympic, and McIlroy struggles to perform.
Plainly, McIlroy was hurt by this failure. "It's a reminder to keep working hard," he sighed. "I know the game doesn't come easy. I felt like I played okay to be honest, but you only have to be a fraction off here and you're making bogeys. It's disappointing, but I'll just head home and play some links golf at Royal Portrush and get ready for the Irish Open," added McIlroy.
There could be no better place for him to tee it up next Thursday week than the Dunluce Links, where he shot the course record 61 at age 16.
McIlroy certainly was not the only celebrated player to struggle. His playing companion Luke Donald's opening 79 on Thursday was two shots worse than Rory's 77 and the World No 1 was still one behind the Ulsterman on 11-over after his 72 yesterday.
However, this week is an aberration for Donald ... in McIlroy's case, there have been too many blowouts recently for comfort.
A run of three missed cuts in succession at The Players, BMW and Memorial were arrested when, after intensive remedial work with swing coach Michael Bannon, McIlroy registered a top-10 finish in Memphis last week.
Before Sawgrass, McIlroy vowed to adapt his game to fit the course, but his aggressive nature eventually got the better of him -- so the Holywood star missed the cut for the third time in three visits to Pete Dye's tactical masterpiece.
In San Francisco on Tuesday, he proposed taking an aggressive approach at Olympic and "attacking the golf course" where appropriate. This strategy sounded appealing, but, sadly, was always going to leave McIlroy on a hiding to nothing at a venue which demands prudence, patience and strict mental discipline.
Graeme McDowell, the man he succeeded as US Open Champion, possesses those qualities in abundance. Yet, for all his natural talent, McIlroy does not hold a candle to his 32-year-old friend when the going gets tough.
Once again yesterday, McIlroy performed below the standard expected, when a second round 73, featuring two birdies and four bogeys, consigned him to a fourth missed cut in five tournaments and second in three years at the US Open.
He gave himself a decent chance of making the weekend by driving the green at the 275-yard par four seventh. After watching his 15-foot eagle putt drift eight feet past the hole, McIlroy sank the birdie putt.
Yet those hopes effectively were snuffed out when he three-putted his finishing hole, the 192-yard par-three eighth, missing from inside two feet for par. McIlroy completed his opening 36 holes in 10-over.
Two other defending champions have failed to make the cut at recent US Opens. In 2006 Michael Campbell was eliminated on 12-over after 36 holes at Winged Foot, while Angel Cabrera followed-up his victory at Oakmont in 2007 by playing his first 36 holes at Torrey Pines in 13-over. Yet they were never touted as natural successors to Tiger Woods as the next dominant force in golf ... though sometimes these days, one sees a little more of the young Sergio Garcia than Woods in McIlroy.
Winning last year's US Open lends the Ulsterman one Major advantage over the Spaniard -- he'll never have to endure the mind-bending agony Garcia suffered at Carnoustie in 2007 and Oakland Hills 2008 as Padraig Harrington denied that a long-awaited Major title.
It is worrying to see Garcia's precocious talent so often supplanted by petulance or defeatism these days. For example, he stunned many of his admirers at April's Masters by saying he wasn't good enough to win a Major.
The Spaniard didn't play badly yesterday and made the cut comfortably. Yet he still turned the air blue, mercifully in his own language, after blocking an early tee shot into the trees. He then battered a TV microphone into submission after his ball landed well short of the green at the par-three third.
Peter Lawrie's first US Open ended after two rounds, the Dubliner bravely hanging-out for a 77 after dropping eight shots in his opening nine holes.
"To be fair, I played poorly at the start of my round," admitted Lawrie, who tied Donald on 11-over. "But I battled back well and gave myself plenty of chances on the way in ... I just couldn't take any of them."
Live, Sky Sports 1, 8.0