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Rory McIlroy and the U.S. Open he will never escape — even though he tried

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Rory McIlroy and the U.S. Open he will never escape — even though he tried

PINEHURST, N.C. — Within seven minutes of Bryson DeChambeau’s ball landing in the cup, the ripping sound of tires skirting on pavement whipped through Pinehurst Resort as Rory McIlroy’s courtesy Lexus SUV pulled out of his 2011 U.S. Open champion parking place and drove away from the day he’ll never escape. He stared into the distance as his agents and caddie spoke around him. No interviews. The 35-year-old Northern Irishman simply tossed his clubs and workout bag into the trunk, slipped into the driver’s seat and threw it into reverse. The U.S. Open ended at 6:38 p.m. At 7:29 p.m., McIlroy’s Gulfstream 5 took off, leaving the Sandhills of North Carolina without his fifth major championship but with the collapse that will define him forever.

Just 90 minutes earlier, McIlroy strutted down the 14th fairway prepared to redefine his career. Ten years without a major. Ten years of pain and close calls, a man who won four majors by the time he was 25 then fell short again and again. And here he was, with five holes remaining at the U.S. Open, leading Bryson DeChambeau and the field by two strokes.

But Rory McIlroy did not win the 2024 U.S. Open.

Three bogeys and a pair of missed three-foot putts later, McIlroy lost it to DeChambeau. It will be remembered far more than any of his four wins.


Chewing a nutrition bar walking off the 14th tee, McIlroy leaned over to peek at the 13th green to his right. McIlroy had a two-shot lead because he had just birdied 13 as DeChambeau — playing in the final group as the 54-hole leader — had bogeyed No. 12. But DeChambeau put his drive safely on the par-4 13th with a putt for eagle, and McIlroy wanted to get a look. DeChambeau ultimately birdied to get back within one.

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McIlroy entered Sunday at Pinehurst three shots back of DeChambeau. He was not supposed to win this, but he seemingly went and grabbed it. For 13 holes, we saw the version of McIlroy many pleaded for during the past decade. He looked like a killer, or some version of it. He opened with a birdie on the first hole and birdied Nos. 9, 10, 12 and 13 with lengthy putts. He was winning this major.

But golf is not a sport kind to the premature formation of narratives.

He parred No. 14. Then, he bogeyed the par-3 15th after overshooting the green, but that was acceptable. It was one of the hardest holes of the day, and DeChambeau bogeyed it too.

It was on 16 that the fear kicked in. McIlroy had a simple-seeming par putt from two feet, six inches. And he missed. It wasn’t really close, rounding the left edge. Yet McIlroy remained on a mission to stay calm. The instant it missed, he flattened both his palms to give the “calm down” signal. Yet throughout the Pinehurst No. 2 a familiar sentiment was whispered. Not again.

And no matter how hard he tried to steel himself, McIlroy sent his tee shot on the par-3 17th into the left-side bunker. Credit to him, he hit a beautiful, soft pitch out from the sand and saved par.

But what happened next signaled it might be over far before it truly was.

McIlroy put his putter back into his bag, leaned over to grab his driver and his eyes bulged into a fearful grimace. The game plan was out the window. The thoughts that got him here were gone. He was flying blind.

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See, McIlroy had a plan this week. He talked about it nearly every day from Tuesday through Saturday. Boring golf. Disciplined golf. Bogeys will happen, so never get flustered. “Just trying to be super stoic,” McIlroy said Tuesday. “Just trying to be as even-keeled as I possibly can be.” And he was for 71 holes, through it all. His tournament could be defined by how impressive that demeanor was, making the kind of ugly, tough par saves he historically missed.

GO DEEPER

U.S. Open analysis: 10 things to know on Bryson DeChambeau’s win

But somewhere between 16 and 18, McIlroy stared into the headlights and wasn’t prepared to look away. He was now a different golfer. His eyes looked like they were playing through each heartbreaking scenario, in turn putting them into fruition. Maybe then, we should have known.

So, for some inexplicable reason, McIlroy pulled out driver. Why, oh why, did he want his driver? The day before, he hit a 3 wood and left himself only a 133-yard wedge shot in. There was no need for extra length on the 449-yard hole. Maybe McIlroy, likely the best driver of the golf ball in recent memory, thought this would be his signature moment. Maybe he was chasing even though he was tied. Either way, McIlroy launched a drive too far left — into Pinehurst’s infamous native area, just in front of a patch of wiregrass. He had no play. He punched out an awkward little roller up to the front of the green. And again, his short game came to play with a nice little chip to three feet, nine inches from the 18th pin.

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He missed. Again.

It was as if Bill Buckner let a second ball go through his legs. There is no explanation nor any defense. McIlroy’s short, softly hit putt broke right immediately and rode the right edge of the hole. Rory McIlroy had just bogeyed three of the final four holes to hand away the 2024 U.S. Open, giving Bryson DeChambeau room to earn it with an incredible up and down out of the 18th bunker to par and take the title. If McIlroy made both three-foot putts, he wins the U.S. Open. If he makes one, he goes to a playoff. But he made neither.

McIlroy signed his scorecard in the scoring tent and watched the finish on TV with the slightest, faintest sense of hope. He ate another nutrition bar during DeChambeau’s bunker shot. His hat sat loosely crooked on top of his head for the final putt with hands on his hips. He took one last nervous, sick-to-his-stomach gulp down his throat before the putt fell in. When it did, he turned, looked down, swallowed once more and exited out the door behind him. He gathered his belongings and made his way to the Lexus.

The golfer known for his ability to speak eloquently on all subjects declined to speak to media. There was nothing left to say.


McIlroy’s career began with a collapse. He was just 23 and entered Sunday at the 2011 Masters with a four-shot lead but shot a disastrous 80 to fade away. People will always remember that day, but he won the U.S. Open two months later. It was the first of four majors in as many years. He seemed on pace to chase the greats.

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He’s never won a major again.


Rory McIlroy had a two-shot lead with five holes to play Sunday. (Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)

But unlike so many other sports figures who burned bright early only to fade out, McIlroy’s game didn’t dissipate. He’s remained one of the three or four best players in the world for most of these last 10 years. He’s won 26 PGA Tour events. He’s finished top 10 at 21 of the 37 majors since. By most metrics, the past three years have been his best. He just couldn’t win. Most wouldn’t have even called him a choker. First, he just got off to a bad starts and finished hot. Then, the last three years, somebody else grabbed it from him. At the 2022 Open Championship, he shot a perfectly fine Sunday 70. He just couldn’t hit the 50-50 birdies, and Cameron Smith did to shoot a 64 and steal it. At the 2023 U.S. Open, he entered one back of Wyndham Clark. They shot the same Sunday score. He didn’t hand these away.

The 2024 U.S. Open at Pinehurst? Rory McIlroy choked.

McIlroy has made some enemies in his time, and two of the people he’s bumped heads with most are Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson, two players as synonymous for their epic collapses as they are for their eight combined majors. Norman is most famous for his six-shot 1996 Masters disaster. Mickelson famously double-bogeyed the 18th hole at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot to give it to Geoff Ogilvy. Now, McIlroy will live forever with those two men.

There aren’t many comparisons in sports to the path of McIlroy. There aren’t other athletes or team dynasties that won multiple titles immediately, stayed at the top of the sport but became known as chokers at the end of their run. The Patriots won three more titles after the Super Bowl losses to the Giants. The core of the 2004 Yankees was aging, and they won again five years later. Jordan Spieth didn’t give majors away after his third major before the age of 24 — his play declined.

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The hardest part with McIlroy is always thinking he might get the next one. He is still that good. He still has a runner-up finish at a major each of the past three years. And there’s this idea that if he keeps putting himself in contention, the cards will eventually fall his way.

But on Sunday, something changed. McIlroy is 35 now, and maybe the muscle memory has faded over the last decade. How to put your entire dreams into something and have it work out. How to prove a narrative wrong or hit the perfect shot with thousands of fans living and dying with every swing.

Rory McIlroy sped off out of the Pinehurst Resort parking lot early Sunday evening not just a man in heartbreak. He drove off as forever the man who missed those two putts.

(Top photo: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)

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Behind Caeleb Dressel's Olympic return, 'a work in progress' to rekindle his love for swimming

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Behind Caeleb Dressel's Olympic return, 'a work in progress' to rekindle his love for swimming

Follow our Olympics coverage in the lead-up to the Paris Games.


The shimmer of Caeleb Dressel’s seven gold medals may suggest otherwise, but he knows swimming can be a brutal and suffocating sport.

He is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best in the world at what he does, sprinting from one end of the pool to the other (and sometimes back). He holds the world record in the men’s 100-meter butterfly, having first snatched that historical distinction away from Michael Phelps in 2019. Then, Dressel lowered his world record in the event at the Tokyo Olympics — where he won five gold medals in five events.

Despite it all, Dressel was miserable.

He was fixated on where he felt he’d failed. In one race, it was the turn. Another, the finish. His head position. It didn’t matter that he’d touched the wall first over and over again. It didn’t matter that he was bringing gold home and helping Team USA finish atop the medal count. He chased perfection. He chased times and chased stretch goals. He hadn’t met them.

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“I created a monster in myself — just so caught up in perfectionism,” he told former Olympians Missy Franklin and Katie Hoff on their “Unfiltered Waters” podcast. “So caught up in, ‘If I don’t see these times, it means I’m a bad person, or it means I did not train hard enough. If I don’t go a world record, it means … I didn’t obsess enough.’”

The sport he’d been drawn to as a kid because it was so delightfully fun was quite the opposite. And it’d been that way for years. But Dressel kept pushing himself, listening to his internal critic ripping himself apart.

Until he “broke,” he puts it now. He withdrew abruptly in the middle of the 2022 world championship meet in Budapest and disappeared from the sport for eight months.

Dressel hasn’t gone into much detail about that period of his life in Gainesville, Fla., other than to say he spent a lot of time with his therapist. His wife, Meghan, was there for him, too, though she also realized there were a lot of conversations Dressel needed to have inside his own mind. Some days, he didn’t do much. Most days, he avoided routes that took him past the University of Florida pool. He didn’t want to smell the chlorine.

He had to figure out who he was beyond his best times and what made him tick outside the pool. He had to reorient himself, how he believed others felt about him and why they loved him. He had to learn how to smile again.

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The process wasn’t easy, and progress hasn’t always been a straight line. But it’s what makes Dressel, 27, who he is now as a swimmer and a person (and new dad). It’s also why he’s back in the pool and headed to Paris, one of the headliners of Team USA and arguably the most important piece of the puzzle for the U.S. swim team in its efforts to win the meet by bringing home more gold medals than its peers. There is outside pressure, yes. But inside his mind, Dressel’s biggest critic is quieter.

“It’s really tough,” Dressel told The Athletic last month. “It’s embedded in me — where you always want to look for ways to get better. I’m still doing that, but I’m not becoming obsessed and so fixated on it that I lose sight of what’s actually fun with the sport. It’s hard, and it’s not like I’ve all of a sudden gotten to figure it out this year. There are things that I’m really proud that I’ve done differently, like being able to enjoy parts of the sport without just crapping on myself for not being perfect.

“It is still very much a work in progress.”


Caeleb Dressel won five gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics. But a year later, he walked away from the sport. It’s still “a work in progress,” he said of his return. (Tim Clayton / Corbis via Getty Images)

Now, Dressel sounds like a person who’s figured out a lot about himself through therapy. One of the first things he will tell you is how helpful his regular appointments with his therapist have been.

“I’ve been trying to not be so fixated on results and just simply enjoying racing and training — those are the two parts of the sport that I really enjoy,” Dressel said. “There are parts of the sport that I really dislike, that I really hate. But it’s worth putting up with for the moments that I really do enjoy. It’s going to be a balance; I’m not expecting every part of the sport to just be the best thing ever for me. But I’ve really leaned into the parts of the sport that I do enjoy.

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“That’s been the main difference for me. I’ve always loved training. I’ve always loved being around the team. The actual racing portion, I do really, really enjoy — as soon as the gun goes off, it’s just simply fun. So, I’ve just been trying to keep it just simply swimming. Simply swimming this year.”

Dressel will simply swim the 50-meter freestyle and the 100 fly as individual events at the Games, and he’ll likely be part of multiple relays. At the U.S. Olympic trials in Indianapolis, he finished third in the 100-free final, which cost him the opportunity to defend his gold medal in the event in Paris.

But he’s happy to be part of the Olympic team. He’s proud of what he accomplished at trials to qualify for it. He’s thrilled that his infant son, August, got to see it all, held in Meghan’s arms in the stands.

“No one can take that away,” Dressel said in Indianapolis. “He’s not going to remember it. I will tell him, trust me, I got photos so I can prove it. … That was a really special moment. Meghan knows what goes into this, not just the parenting side of things but she gets to see firsthand the struggles that come with the sport.

“The tears that come with it, the frustration and then also the high points, and getting to share that with them, because they go through that as well — that was really special, August getting to see that.”

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Meghan shared a video of Dressel with baby August at the Olympic training camp in North Carolina this month, another moment captured and saved to commemorate a once-in-a-lifetime moment. They’ll be in Paris, too, alongside Dressel’s parents and family. Dressel said he wouldn’t be where he is today without their support. And he certainly wouldn’t be where he is without Meghan, whom he calls the “superhero” of their family.

Parenthood is wonderful for many reasons, but perhaps the greatest lesson it teaches is one of perspective — especially for someone who has spent most of his life chasing times and hunting perfection that does not and cannot exist.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever go a best time ever again, and that’s tough to say out loud. It really is,” Dressel said. “When you’re 19, 20, 21, you keep chipping away, chipping away, chipping away. I’m still working harder than ever, finding every path I can take to shave those couple of tenths. But I don’t know. I don’t know if I can do that. I’m really good at racing. You put me in a race, I will make it close, as close as I possibly can, even if I have to try to kill myself to get there. I will put myself in those situations.”

So, he doesn’t know exactly how Paris will go. But he knows he’s older, wiser and genuinely happier than before the last Olympic Games. Others see it, too, and not just when he’s straddling the lane line after a race or punching the water in celebration.

“He’s always had that smile,” seven-time gold medalist and University of Florida training partner Katie Ledecky said. “He took that time away, and when he came back, he’s had that smile every day. Just to see his progression over this past year, how he’s just gotten better and better each meet — he seems to just be loving the racing, and he loves the training probably more than the racing, and that makes everyone around him better.”

It will make one of the best swimmers in the world better, too. And that’s why that smile is as good as gold, no matter what medal hangs around Dressel’s neck.

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Caeleb Dressel

“I don’t know if I’ll ever go a best time ever again, and that’s tough to say out loud,” Caeleb Dressel said. He’ll give it a shot in Paris starting later this month. (Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)

(Top illustration: Dan Goldfarb / The Athletic; photo: Sarah Stier / Getty Images) 

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Utah State fires football coach Blake Anderson for 'significant' contract violations

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Utah State fires football coach Blake Anderson for 'significant' contract violations

Utah State fired football coach Blake Anderson Thursday for what it called “significant violations of his contractual obligations.”

The firing came more than two weeks after the school informed Anderson of its plans to terminate his contract due to actions in the spring of 2023 that violated “both his employment agreement and university policy.” The school said it conducted an external review that found he failed to comply with Title IX policies regarding the reporting of sexual misconduct cases.

The university also dismissed Jerry Bovee, associate vice president and deputy athletic director of external affairs at Utah State, and Austin Albrecht, the director of player development and community, for alleged violations of university policies related to the reporting of sexual and domestic violence and failures of professional responsibilities.

Head coach Blake Anderson of the Utah State Aggies during the first half of his team’s game against the New Mexico Lobos at University Stadium Nov 26, 2021, in Albuquerque, N.M.  (Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

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After informing Anderson his employment agreement would be terminated July 2, the school waited two weeks for Anderson’s response as required by Utah law.

On Thursday, Utah State officially terminated Anderson. 

“To USU’s disappointment, Anderson’s response failed to acknowledge his responsibilities as a USU employee and as a head coach and instead sought to make excuses and unsuccessfully recast the clear language of USU’s policies,” the university said.

ALABAMA REPORTEDLY NAMING FOOTBALL FIELD AFTER FORMER HEAD COACH NICK SABAN

Blake Anderson

Head coach Blake Anderson of the Utah State Aggies talks into his headset during the first half of a game against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Maverik Stadium Oct. 13, 2023, in Logan, Utah.  (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

Anderson, 55, was about to enter his fourth season with the school after posting a 23-17 record in his first three seasons, including the Aggies’ first-ever Mountain West championship his first season. 

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Nate Dreiling was elevated to interim head coach after serving as Utah State’s defensive coordinator and defensive ends coach under Anderson.

Blake Anderson during a game

Head coach Blake Anderson of the Utah State Aggies during the first half of a game at University Stadium Nov. 24, 2023, in Albuquerque, N.M. (Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

“While I recognize that today’s decision has a significant impact, it is the only one that could be made based on the facts.” USU President Elizabeth Cantwell said in a statement, “We are committed to moving forward in building a winning athletics program grounded in student success and integrity.” 

The Aggies open the 2024 season Aug. 31 against Robert Morris.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Teoscar Hernández could have signed with the Red Sox. Here's why he chose the Dodgers

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Teoscar Hernández could have signed with the Red Sox. Here's why he chose the Dodgers

Teoscar Hernández could be playing for the Boston Red Sox this weekend instead of against them.

He could have taken the two-year, $28-million deal he says the Red Sox offered during the offseason.

He could have returned to All-Star form and won the Home Run Derby while representing a Boston team he says was always one of his favorites.

But that’s not how it played out for Hernández. Instead, the outfielder has been representing Los Angeles in tremendous fashion after signing a one-year, $23.5-million deal from the Dodgers, who start a three-game series with the Red Sox on Friday night at Dodger Stadium.

“Obviously, I was not gonna go and spend my free agency trying to get a bad deal,” the Dominican Republic native said this week on the “Baseball Isn’t Boring” podcast. “I love the Red Sox. It was one of my favorite teams. And I love playing [at Fenway Park], but at the end of the day I have to [decide] what is best for me, my career and my family.”

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Hernández made his major league debut with the Houston Astros in 2016 and was acquired by the Toronto Blue Jays at the 2017 trade deadline. He became an All-Star in 2021 and finished the season with career highs across the board, including a .296 batting average, 163 hits, 32 home runs and 116 runs batted in.

After his numbers dipped the following season, Hernández was traded to the Seattle Mariners, where his 211 strikeouts were the third most in the majors last year. As a free agent this past season, Hernández said, he received interest from the Angels as well as the Dodgers and Red Sox, but his final decision was between the latter two teams.

Hernández told “Baseball Isn’t Boring” that the Red Sox gave him the impression they’d be willing to increase their offer to three years after some maneuvering on their end.

In December, the Dodgers signed major deals with Japanese two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani and pitchers Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow. Hernández said he saw what was happening in Los Angeles and knew he “couldn’t wait any longer” on the Red Sox.

“Teams that wanna win, they spend. They go after good players,” Hernández said. “I’m not saying [the Red Sox] don’t have good players, because they do. The Red Sox are really good right now and they had amazing players. But for my part, I just wanna go to a team that it’s looking for everybody that is good to win … that they’re not afraid to spend and to go after good players so they can make their team better.”

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Hernández has flourished in L.A. His 62 RBIs rank seventh in the National League and trail only Ohtani among Dodgers. His 28 hits with runners in scoring position are 12th in the NL and second on the team, behind Freddie Freeman. His 19 home runs are tied for fifth best in the NL and second on the team to Ohtani.

On Monday night, he outlasted Bobby Witt Jr. of the Kansas City Royals to become the first Dodgers player to win the Home Run Derby in its 40-year history.

“In this organization, everybody talks about win, win, win, and that’s me,” Hernández said. “I don’t care about anything else. I want to win. I’m at one point in my career that I want to go out there and have fun, have a good year but also win too.”

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