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Rory McIlroy’s drought is complicated after the almost lost US Open

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BROOKLINE, Mass. — What do we think of Rory McIlroy?

It’s hard to call him an underachiever when he’s won 21 career tournaments, including four major championships, and will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame on roller skates.

Problem is, it’s been eight years and counting since McIlroy won the last of those four big championships, the 2014 PGA Championship.

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And McIlroy, not only an astute historian of the game but one of the most honest athletes in sports, knows that elite players like him are measured in legacy by the number of majors that appear on their career resume.

His fifth-place finish at this week’s US Open, four strokes behind winner Matthew Fitzpatrick, marks the 29 major championships McIlroy has played without hardware since that 2014 PGA win at Valhalla.

“Yeah…another top five at a major,” McIlroy said. “I guess it doesn’t really mean anything.”

This week’s 122nd US Open at The Country Club was McIlroy’s 11th top-five finish at a major and his 22nd top-10 finish.

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Rory McIlroy
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McIlroy insisted his mantra for the majors isn’t “win or lose,” but then quickly added, “I think when I look back, will I remember the fifth-place finish I got at Brookline? Probably not.”

Not that he’s become a 10 handicapper since that PGA victory in 2014. McIlroy has won 13 times since then, and those victories include two Tour Championships, two World Golf Championships and a Players Championship.

Those aren’t exactly low-key, weak-field events. No disrespect intended, but they are not the Sanderson Farms Championship, the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, or the QBE Shootout. They are not opposite field events.

Those are cream-of-the-crop events, which enhance legacies.

However, what they are not are important championships.

“I played well enough to give myself a chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t do the work, but I’m closer than I’ve been in a long time, which is good.”

But not good enough, and that hurts.

“It’s still not close enough,” McIlroy said. “There were a few holes there today where I birdied and then did the opposite one time back with the bogey on the next one. To win golf tournaments, you just can’t do that. But it is there. Is near. I just have to be patient.

“I have one more start next week in Hartford before I go to the Open Championship. I have one more opportunity this year to try to get that specialization.”

McIlroy said it “will probably take a while” to absorb the positives from this week.

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England’s Matt Fitzpatrick is congratulated on his win by Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy as he walks off the 18th green.
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“I’ll look back on this as another missed opportunity like Southern Hills was (at the PGA Championship last month when he finished eighth), but missed opportunities are better than not competing at all,” he said. “So that’s a positive. I have to be patient at this point because if I keep putting myself in position, sooner or later it will be my day and I will have it.”

He spoke like a player still looking for his first major, but that’s how McIlroy feels in these eight long years.

Although McIlroy, as complete a player as there is in the game, married with a son, with all the money he’ll need, has a healthy outlook on life, he wants to get more out of his golf. He wants more major championships.

He has tried everything.

Entering this week, he tasted a renewed mental focus.

“I think I have to go out with the mindset this week that I’m going to try to win my first time,” McIlroy said earlier in the week. “I am playing golf as well as I have in a long time. I have a lot of experience. Yeah, I’ve won big championships and other big events, but…just because I’ve done it doesn’t mean I’m going to make better golf shots or putts.

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

McIlroy won the RBC Canadian Open last week and came to Boston feeling like he was ready to break through again, win that fifth major he covets.

He said on Sunday, entering the final round three shots off the lead, that he would need to shoot a 65 or 66 “to get the job done.”

He shot 69 and lost by four.

“I just wasn’t focused enough to do that,” he said. “I still feel like I played well and shot a solid round of golf, but not good enough.”

Maybe it’ll be good enough next month at St. Andrews.

“My game is in good shape,” he insisted. “I have one more chance this year to try to get that specialization.”

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