2022 U.S. Open: Rory McIlroy Downplays Narratives After Opening-Round 67

2022 U.S. Open: Rory McIlroy Downplays Narratives After Opening-Round 67 article feature image

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) Pictured: Rory McIlroy.

BROOKLINE, Mass. — We’re all going to play the narrative game. That’s what we do. The world of professional golf is mired in the direst state of turmoil in the modern era, so naturally we’re going to look for a narrative to help us make some sense of what we just witnessed.

It should go without saying that the preceding paragraph refers directly to the massive fault line which is currently dividing the game, with the PGA TOUR attempting to survive what can only be categorized as a hostile takeover by the LIV Golf Invitational Series. However, it refers even more directly to Rory McIlroy, who has emerged as the most vocal leader of the former — a conscientious voice rising above the noise.

In the opening round of the 122nd U.S. Open Championship, McIlroy posted a 3-under 67, which featured a lone bogey on his final hole, leaving him just one stroke behind leader Adam Hadwin once the day concluded.

After he was finished, McIlroy was asked a predictable, yet relevant, question about what it meant and whether he’s more inspired to succeed right now because of current events.

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It was predictable based on his predilection to become a leader in this space, speaking out against the LIV tour to the extent that his victory on Sunday at the RBC Canadian Open was culminated with a press conference during which he essentially trolled the CEO of that rival league, knowing immediately that his 21st win gave him, in his words, “one more than [Greg] Norman.”

It was relevant for all the same reasons, as McIlroy’s recent performances have served as quote-unquote “statements” more than just strong rounds of golf by one of the world’s best players.

And yet, following the opening round at The Country Club, McIlroy pushed aside any suggestions that his rise up the leaderboard meant something more considering the current state of affairs.

“Not really,” he offered, when asked whether this was another statement. “It's been eight years since I won a major and I just want to get my hands on one again.”

That should be the major takeaway from his opening round, not that it was some start to a PGA TOUR-saving performance, not that it was some retaliation toward LIV Golf for stealing away so many players.

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As much as McIlroy was aware of Norman’s career numbers, he’s even more mindful of his own — and he’s right, of course. The last time he won a major championship was 2014 — his fourth such title — and nobody at that time would’ve believed it would be so long until his next one.

What’s been the problem since then?

Well, not as much as you might think. He’s finished in the top-10 in more majors than not (15 of the past 28) dating back to 2015. Great players, though, are measured in wins, not top-10s and close calls are more often considered failures rather than near-successes.

In many of those close calls, the issue has been the start, not the close, something McIlroy has corrected this week.

“You feel like you're right in the tournament from the start of the week, which is nice,” he said. “I'm going into [Friday] with the mindset of let's keep it going, rather than where is the cut line or whatever. If you don't get off to a great start, those thoughts start to creep in. ‘OK, what do I need to just be here for the weekend?’ It's certainly a different mindset when you get off to a good start, and yeah, I've just got to keep it going.”

If he does, if he posts three more rounds like this one and claims his first major championship in eight years, there will certainly be plenty of narratives surrounding McIlroy's latest win, with everything that’s swirling in the golf world right now.

It might not be wrong, either. It’s only natural to consider those narratives at this moment. And maybe he’ll change his mind if he’s able to claim this victory. But for now, McIlroy isn’t getting ahead of himself. This was a brilliant start, exactly what he needed, but he’s not calling it a statement. Not yet, at least.

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