Column: Major disappointments belong to more than McIlroy

Jul 18, 2022, 7:27 PM | Updated: Jul 19, 2022, 7:29 am

Cameron Smith, of Australia, centre, shakes hands with Cameron Young of the US, left, and his caddi...

Cameron Smith, of Australia, centre, shakes hands with Cameron Young of the US, left, and his caddie after the final round of the British Open golf championship on the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, Sunday July 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The trouble with winning so much so early is that the losing can feel worse than it really is.

The British Open stung Rory McIlroy, even if he said it wasn’t life or death. It might have hurt even more than his 80 in the final round of the 2011 Masters. He was only 21 back then, without a major, when talent exceeded expectations.

But then he won a U.S. Open with a record score at Congressional later that year. He won the PGA Championship the following year at Kiawah Island. And two years later, he added his name to the claret jug at Royal Liverpool and won another PGA Championship just four weeks apart.

Four majors in four years. Only three other players in the previous century had that many at age 25 or younger — Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

McIlroy is now 33 and still has four majors, not to mention some gray hair around the edges. His popularity is just as great now as it was then, if not more.

Disappointment? Sure.

McIlroy now has gone 30 majors since winning his last one. Perhaps more surprising is the British Open was the first time during that drought he was atop the leaderboard after 54 holes.

He did little wrong, and even less right. Imagine having a share of the 54-hole lead in a major, hitting every green in regulation and still not winning. McIlroy two-putted every green. He had two-putt birdies after reaching the par-5 fifth in two and driving the green on the par-4 10th.

The hole really appeared to shrink when Cameron Smith ran off five straight birdies to start the back nine and took the lead. “I had to dig deep to make birdies and I just couldn’t,” McIlroy said.

Just don’t get the idea McIlroy was the only player who left St. Andrews — along with two other majors this year — feeling as though he should have won.

It only felt that way because so many wanted him to win.

Save a thought for Cameron Young.

He drove into the gorse on the reachable par-4 ninth and turned a look at birdie into a bogey. Young missed a 6-foot birdie chance on the 15th. He wasted a big, bold tee shot on the 16th when his wedge came up short and rolled down he ridge. His two shots on the 17th were better than McIlroy’s, only to leave his birdie chance short. And needing something special to have any chance, he drove the 18th green and holed a 15-foot eagle putt that was only good for a silver medal.

He will have just as many “what if” moments as McIlroy. And that’s just from St. Andrews. Young, the best PGA Tour rookie this year, also made a three-putt double bogey on the 16th hole to finish one shot out of a playoff at the PGA Championship.

Will Zalatoris wasn’t a factor at St. Andrews. He had to settle for a pair of runner-up finishes in the majors this year.

Zalatoris three-putted from 20 feet on the 16th hole at Southern Hills in the PGA Championship. He wound up losing in a playoff to Justin Thomas. And then at Brookline for the U.S. Open, he narrowly missed a 15-foot putt on the final hole to force a playoff.

One player stands out over the others, and it’s a product of expectations. Jordan Spieth knows the feeling. He won the Masters and U.S. Open, was one putt away from a playoff at St. Andrews for the third leg of the Grand Slam, and was runner-up in the PGA.

That’s a once-in-a-career performance in the majors. Spieth was 21, in his third year as a pro. Good luck living up to that, though it’s a nice problem to have.

Does it make it worse or better that McIlroy was the only player to finish in the top 10 at all four majors this year without winning? The last player to do that was Rickie Fowler in 2014, a distant memory because Fowler hasn’t won a major (and now is on the verge of falling out of the top 150 in the world ranking).

There is some truth to McIlroy’s immediate assessment Sunday evening. He was beat more than he lost.

Smith shot 30 on the back nine — Jack Nicklaus (1986) and Gary Player (1978) did that when they won the Masters — and his 64 was the lowest closing score by an Open champion at St. Andrews. Among the great closing rounds in Open history, it rivals the 65 by Phil Mickelson when he won at Muirfield in 2013.

“I’ve just got to keep putting myself in position, keep putting myself in there,” McIlroy said.

Worse than not winning at St. Andrews was so rarely putting himself in that position the last eight years. Only three times in his previous 29 majors had he started the final round closer than five shots behind.

“Whenever you put yourself in that shining light, you’re going to have to deal with setbacks and deal with failures,” he said. “Today is one of those times. But I just have to dust myself off and come again and keep working hard and keep believing.”

He has eight months and three weeks until the Masters, his next opportunity. That’s the same wait for Zalatoris and Young, with two exceptions.

They are not Rory McIlroy. And they don’t know what they’re missing.


More AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]

1 year ago

Joe Jarzynka...

Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]

1 year ago

FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...

Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]

1 year ago

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...

Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]

1 year ago

FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...

Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]

1 year ago

FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...

Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]

1 year ago

Column: Major disappointments belong to more than McIlroy