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US Open 2022: Rory McIlroy chases the serenity of his youth as he seeks his first major crown since 2014

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BROOKLINE, Mass. — Somehow, Rory McIlroy has been chasing his 25-year-old self for the past eight years. He is now 33 years old without a major championship since that summer he turned 25. He won two that season to match the two he already owned, but has come up empty handed in the ensuing 81 months.

On Saturday at the 2022 US Open, McIlroy will face three iterations of that old self as he tries to jumpstart his major championship run.

Colin Morikawa (25), Scottie Scheffler (25) and Jon Rahm (27) have a combined four majors, the same number as the now-greatest statesman in their sport. Morikawa is a shot ahead of McIlroy with Rahm level with the Ulsterman and Scheffler one behind. They have Rory surrounded.

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McIlroy nearly kicked this US Open before it really got any good. After shooting 67 and keeping one shot on Thursday, he co-led when he started his second round on Friday. Rory started par-par, but the disaster at No. 3 led to a 25-foot double-bogey putt, which he buried.

He danced from 1 bass to 2 bass and back again for most of the day on Friday, summoning visions of the PGA Championship in Southern Hills, which he had in his grasp until he didn’t, which danced on the heads of fans.

A bogey on No. 10 pushed McIlroy back to 1-under, and it all seemed to be going away. At the time, he thought, “I just wanted to try to shoot below par.” [on the day].” Three birdies coming home with no bogies in the last eight holes meant he did it, narrowly.

McIlroy advanced the back nine to shoot 69, a solid follow-up to his 67 that put him four under and one behind a lead shared by Morikawa and Joel Dahmen.

McIlroy has seemed very tense all week, in part because has been carrying the weight of a sport. But it’s clear he feels this is his best chance in years to add to his core collection. McIlroy is a bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out the big moments, and he’s taken advantage of just about every one he’s gotten into.

However, it has been a long time and he knows that having previously won this event in 2011 will not help him win this US Open.

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

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

The ongoing freedom that McIlroy has pursued can be found in the hearts of Morikawa, Scheffler, and, to an extent, Rahm.

Will McIlroy summon what those guys embody, what the once incarnated better than anyone — over the weekend?

Morikawa, Scheffler and Rahm have the ability of youngsters to gallop because they don’t know yet that they can get tired. For years, McIlroy has seemed unsure if he can trust himself enough to let go. Now? Well, he looks smart.

“You want to face the best to try to get the best out of yourself,” McIlroy said. “And see Collin and Jon and Scottie and Sam [Burns] up there, and whoever, that’s what major championship golf is all about. That’s what competition is about.

“I certainly don’t want it to be easy. I want guys to go out and shoot 65s, so I have to go and shoot 64s. That’s competition, and that’s the heart of this game. I’m excited to be in it.” mix for the weekend.

When McIlroy feels himself and the moment, everything seems liquid.

Other players hit, hit or hammer. Rory flows. His swing, no doubt, but also his whole spirit. His presence fills major championship races.

There was a 10-minute stretch on Friday that accounted for this as McIlroy closed out his round with fellow players Xander Schauffele and Hideki Matsuyama. An analog leaderboard danced crooked letters SCHAUFFELE right over McIlroy’s shoulder as he filled the cup 17 with his fifth and final birdie of the day to reach 4-under.

McIlroy strutted to the 18th hole where, during a long wait for the group in front of him, he juggled golf balls handed to him by Schauffele’s caddy. The Juggler who would soon go for the jugular.

As McIlroy gained momentum late in his round, he moved across the property with the freedom of the water.

All of which begs the question: Can you flow into the weekend at a US Open while dragging so much of your past with you and watching so many young stars who don’t have to handle that load?

With the sun fading on this craggy old course, McIlroy was asked Friday if he could play free at Brookline. A look of yesteryear flooded the four-time Grand Slam champion’s face.

“For the first time in a long time,” he said pointedly.

The weekend will tell.

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