Rory McIlroy was still 16 years from being born the last time the final round of a US Open began with a four-way tie. And yet, somehow, the world No1 summoned the spirit of 1973 on Sunday at Chambers Bay.
On that historic occasion Johnny Miller produced a 63 to upstage the quartet who had earlier been in pole position for the major. Here McIlroy embarked on a turbo-charged run which saw him reach the turn in 32 before holing birdies at the 10th – where he played one of the shots of the tournament from a fairway bunker to within 3ft of the hole – 12th and 13th. The third of those arrived via a 72ft putt from over the back of the putting surface.
Roars reverberated around the venue. McIlroy had confirmed an ability to produce these cataclysmic surges which no other player in this sport can replicate. From the 14th green Marc Warren, in the group in front of McIlroy and John Senden, stood back just to watch the four-time major winner’s drive. Even fellow professionals knew what was taking place.
Perhaps McIlroy was not even the one smiling most widely. The USGA and its executive director, Mike Davis, finally had a counter-argument against the wave of criticism this event has withstood. A finale featuring McIlroy in such imperious form, after all, is hardly the domain of a two-bit event. Some of the sniping towards Chambers Bay has been perfectly valid. The 115th US Open, though, reached its conclusion in nail-biting circumstances and with the game’s most prominent figures as the leading players.
The Northern Irishman’s wings were clipped with a bogey on the par-three 15th. The putting woe which had undermined his attempt to run away with this competition, never mind win it, returned. He failed to recover on the short 16th, missed a tiny putt for par on the penultimate hole and ultimately signed for 66 and an even-par 72-hole total.
This represented a magnificent, if belated, effort. The sense that the Open Championship, at the Old Course he so adores, cannot come quickly enough for McIlroy is unavoidable.
Earlier Chris Kirk had offered the most fierce critique of the USGA. The American, who opened his fourth round with a 10, was in no better mood by the time he took to the locker room. Kirk claimed the USGA should be “ashamed of what they did” to this tournament.
Billy Horschel stopped only narrowly short of implanting his putter into a green by way of exhibiting his frustration. The FedEx Cup holder shot 67 on Sunday but was still scathing in his assessment of four days in the Pacific north-west.
“I think a lot of players, and I’m one of them, have lost some respect for the USGA and this championship this year for the greens,” said Horschel.
“It sounds like the players are whining and complaining. Well, you’re playing for millions of dollars, you’re playing for the US Open championship. We’re not looking for perfect greens. We’re not looking for Memorial’s greens or even last week at TPC Southwind in Memphis, at the FedEx St Jude Classic. But we’re looking for something that’s very consistent. Every green is very consistent. And this week they’re not.”
Sergio García signed off with a 68 for three over in total. Justin Rose’s 71 was for plus five. Phil Mickelson had gone 71 holes without a double bogey before taking a fresh air swipe in rough at the last, causing precisely that. He kept his post-round comments to 49 words after a 73.
Lee Westwood was more expansive. The Englishman closed on nine over after an even-par 70. “It’s the kind of course I would like to come and play with my mates, with a cart and a few beers,” he said. “There are certain aspects to it that I don’t think are right for a US Open but I am thinking more from a fan’s point of view. It’s been a strange atmosphere out there because they can’t seem to get close to the action on some holes. I watched Phil Mickelson tee off on the 1st today and they are not going to see him again until his second shot on the 2nd hole.
“From a fan’s point of view it would have been an even harder walk than the players. It’s actually quite dangerous for them. I would be interested to see how active the First Aid tents have been this week. It’s treacherous out there.
“The greens being in poor condition is obviously disappointing. It’s the US Open, you want it in pristine condition but sometimes these things are out of your control.”