Victory Lap.

If There Was a Checkered Flag, Rory Could Have Picked it up Friday.

The U.S. Open on Sunday afternoon turned into a race to try to frame Rory McIlroy’s performance historically instead of a race for the trophy.  If McIlroy hadn’t stumbled at Augusta on Sunday, not only would he be halfway to the Grand Slam, but we probably wouldn’t have been able to convince ourselves there was any doubt on Sunday.  By the time McIlroy made an easy birdie on his opening hole¹, any last drop of excitement was sucked out of what was already a one-man show.

With the Phillies putting in a narcoleptic performance against another soft-t0ssing lefty it wasn’t much of an afternoon for television, especially for me, considering I make no secret that I’m not a McIlroy fan.  He’s got a great game, and this week was total domination, but I rarely look at results when selecting a golfer to root for.  I can’t really explain my distaste for McIlroy, other than I just know it when I see it.  It’s like the reaction I had when seeing Y.E. Yang’s shirt.  Some of my feelings stem from a rush to coronate McIlroy before he won much of anything, and now that he’s got his signature performance there seems to be a rush to overstate what it might mean.

It wasn’t just McIlroy’s performance that made this unlike any U.S. Open I have ever seen.  McIlroy would have won regardless of the course set-up, but Congressional totally failed as a venue in my mind this week.  Part of that can be blamed on the weather, but also there was a failure in setting up the holes.  It seems obvious to me that the USGA reacted to McIlroy’s early run by keeping the course vulnerable, thinking that birdies might be the only way to keep this thing close, and if a course is going to get exposed, why not a historic exposure?  They’ll deny this all day over at the USGA, but how else do you explain a course that seemed to get easier as the week went alone instead of harder?  How do you explain twenty golfers finishing under par?  That’s more than just rain.

And, I suppose some people’s reaction to this will be, well what does it matter what they shoot?  Par is an arbitrary number, and that is true, but you are messing with the U.S. Open’s identity with a course set-up like this.  The Masters has Augusta National, The Open Championship has the historic links courses and the British weather elements, the PGA has the deepest field of the year, and the U.S. Open is supposed to be the hardest test of golf.  This week was nowhere near that, certainly not for Rory, or for several members of the field.  I still think there was a slight shock factor this week.  You’ll notice several guys shot 73-75 the opening day, and then lit it up the rest of the way.  As soon as they realized 65s were out there, things opened up.  Part of the difference was Rory realized it right off the bat on Thursday.  He got an 8 or 9 shot jump in the opening round on most of his closest competition.

  1. Kevin Chappell (76-67-69-66)
  2. Lee Westwood (75-68-65)
  3. Webb Simpson (75-71-66)
  4. Bo Van Pelt (76-67-68)
  5. Dustin Johnson (75-71-69-70)

Those aren’t typical U.S. Open scoring patterns (and plenty more players had something similar), and I think they tell a good bit of the story.  Not only was the course hardest on Thursday, but I think it might have been relying on reputation for a good bit of that difficulty.  So, now that McIlroy has become a 22-year-0ld Major Champion, what does it all mean, really?

Hyperbole will still carry the day in the coverage of sports.  It’s coming from all over, and even Rory’s contemporaries are taking part.  Yesterday Paddy Harrington suggested McIlroy would break Jack’s record of 18 Majors.  The phrase Tiger-like was used to the point of exhaustion all week.  If we’re comparing this result to one of Tiger’s wins I’d say it is more similar to the ’97 Masters than the 2000 U.S. Open.  McIlroy is a top player, but also is very streaky as well, and we saw the culmination of that this week.  It was four days like his weekend romp at Quail Hollow last year.  And, while I think we’ll see Rory on top form more often, I don’t know if it will come every week.  I’m going to hold off on awarded those other 18 majors.  And, Tiger in 2000 was already the clear dominant player.  McIlroy this week reinforced his incredibly high ceiling, but to say he’s tracking Woods’s career arc I think would be a huge fallacy.

Getting back the course, the play this week concerns me in regard to Merion 2013.  Merion will play several hundred yards shorter than Congressional, and though the character of the layout makes the yardage somewhat deceptive, you can’t deny that the 2013 Open could turn into a wedge and putter contest.  There were plenty of short irons at Congressional, and many of them ended up dancing around the hole.  Right now I’d start praying for a very dry lead-up to Merion.  If they can’t keep it firm, the players will tear the course apart.  We’re moving toward a game where there isn’t a long enough course out there.  Five hundred yard par-4s are nothing for these guys.  Firm conditions and wind are the only thing that can keep scores in check in today’s game.  Next year at Olympic will be an interesting look.  The USGA hasn’t been to Olympic since 1998.  That’s pre-equipment explosion.  No one has ever shot under par in an Open at Olympic, what will the winning score be next year?

Lastly, I’ll close with the continuing disappointment of the American contingent.  For whatever reason the Americans seem more comfortable just making a nice living than some of the other guys.  Many of the players we want to push into the spotlight don’t seem comfortable, and would prefer making a few million dollars a year in relative anonymity than facing the burdens a number one ranking would bring.  The failure of any American young gun: Johnson, Mahan, Fowler, Kim, Watney, Watson etc. to make any noise I don’t think can be ignored.  The pool of American golf remains the deepest, but I don’t know that we’re cultivating a multiple major winner like you’d assume McIlroy (or any number of other foreign players) might turn into.  I’d love to think that McIlroy’s historic romp would throw down the gauntlet to young Americans, but I highly doubt that will be the case.

So, congrats to McIlroy, no one has sucked the drama out of a major like this for quite some time.  It appears that Rory will have fans in excess, so there will be no need for me to grab the pom-poms as well.

***

¹The first hole sums up everything you need to know about my feelings about Congressional.  If you can hit 3-wood/wedge into a bowl for an easy birdie on the first hole, it just doesn’t feel like an Open to me.  And, in contrast, the pushed back tee on 18 and hole location resulted in one birdie all day.  On Saturday, the tees were up 50-60 yards.  Why?

(Grantland-ed Again, to amuse myself on an otherwise boring afternoon)

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18 thoughts on “Victory Lap.

  1. You’ll like Gail’s remark after reading a comment from Friday’s post. “Who’s Rory?” So no Tiger status yet.

  2. Hah, yeah, he’s still 10 yrs, a dozen majors and a cast of mistresses away from reaching that status.

  3. Congressional is never going to host another major . . . right? Tell me I’m right. A yearly event there would be fine I guess, but no more majors.

    My take home message is that length doesn’t matter at all. It’s the firmness of the course. if they have Merion baked out then it won’t matter that it’s short.

  4. Something I’d like to know, but I’m sure we never will, is how much they could have firmed up the greens if they wanted.

    They have sub-air there. It’s not like it rained 10 inches.

    I wonder if they had to protect the grass at all, since it was looking shoddy early in the week.

  5. What a ridiculous weekend we saw from Rory McIlroy. I know Congressional was easy but man he just blew the field away. It was quite a sight to see and it is great for golf. We have been waiting so long for someone to step up and after the Masters I honestly didn’t think Rory would be the guy either. This wasn’t your run of the mill major win either. It shows I think that he is just at a different level than the so-called up and coming “stars” that have come and gone over the past decade. It will be interesting to see how he comes out for the upcoming majors. I know I’ll be tuning in.

  6. I hate how golfers fawn all over each other after every win. They always say how much they like the winner, how talented he is, how it’s “neat” to see him putting it together, his potential, etc. Shut up and be pissed. Say the kid got lucky and the course was ripe for the taking or something.

    Also, from what I understand, McIlroy is/was a total a-hole.

    • It is a little strange seeing McDowell there waiting to give him a pretty aggressive hug and call him “a legend.”

      It seems like golfers generally feel the cliched emotions that other athletes spit out. Like, some guy throws a shutout, and some guy on the other team says something like, “He pitched a good game, hats off to him.” What they’re probably feeling is, “I can’t believe that a-hole shut us out.” A golfer would be waiting in the opposing clubhouse with a cold beer.

      • Exactly. Didn’t he say something like “I’ve watched this kid for years”? Um, he’s 21-22, slow down. Phil was all over him, Harrington, everyone needs to slow their roll. I hope “old Tiger” was watching and silently making a check list like the guy from Billy Madison. You just made the list, Luke Donald. Rick Reilly calling him humble….someone needs to maybe check his facts given the effing kid bought a lime green ferrari after his first win.

  7. All I’d say is that Louis Oosthuizen won the British Open by 7 shots last year. It certainly wasn’t as comprehensive a performance, but it had a very similar feel, to me, in the final round especially.

    I don’t think I heard Oosthuizen’s name one time on Sunday? Why? Because comparing McIlroy to him doesn’t serve the purpose. Tiger comparisons, Jack comparisons are good. Comparing him to someone who might or might not win another major is not so good.

    Because McIlroy was earmarked to be a possible successor to Tiger, the win produces this reaction, where Oosthuizen gets filed away as a one-week wonder until further notice.

    The fact it was a US Open adds to McIlroy’s show, but this didn’t play like a US Open, and you can’t convince me that didn’t play a role. Robert Garrigus shot 4 rounds under par. Read that sentence again.

  8. Did Tiger ever vomit over a lead like McIlroy did at the Masters? All I took away from this weekend was the kid can’t handle pressure. 3 shot lead? He’s shaking and vulnerable, choking drives and yipping putts. 8 shot lead? Yeah, i can handle this….

  9. I think the key here is what 3PT just said: It didn’t play like a US Open.

    In three of the last four majors, Chuck McElroy* blitzed the field in the first round. In the British and the Masters he eventually came back to earth. I think the reason for that was that the major championship conditions and pressure eventually caught up to him. In this tournament, however, the championship conditions weren’t present and so the aggressiveness didn’t eventually backfire.

    It’s definitely true that he jumped the field in terms of scoring early, but I’m not sure whether he realized that the course was easy before everyone else did or whether he was just being his ordinary aggressive self and it paid off. He’s playing these tournaments like ordinary tournaments rather than like majors.

    And I was wondering whether other players would have to adopt that mindset now in the majors–be more aggressive, throw away the whole “major championship grind out the pars” mindset. But in the end, I don’t know how much this tournament tells us about how to play a major championship or even much about how Chuck will perfrom in future majors. It just was more of a Bridgestone Championship win than a US Open win.

    * http://sortingbyteams.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/1990bowman-chuckmcelroy.jpg

  10. wow, a chuck mcelroy reference. those are some nice glasses, though.

    it’s nice to come to a place where my distaste for Rory pales in comparison to others.

    I’ll say I really don’t think he was going to choke this one away, regardless. That doesn’t mean I think he’s immune to future meltdowns, but he had this one. It was one of those weeks. you see them on tour. i mean, brian gay won an event by 8 shots or something last year. and, this was a venue where you could do such things…

    i still think rory would have won, though, if they played at goat farm municipal or pine valley. he only missed 10 greens.

  11. Oh, i agree he was going to win this one, that was my point. That with a lead this size, he wasn’t nervous. Put him in a one shot lead, tie, etc of pressure situations, and i don’t think it’s nearly as “in hand” as this was. That’s why it’s comical to hear people saying he’ll rival/be better than Tiger.

  12. Is “Wimby” really an acceptable shorthand reference for Wimbledon? ESPN is now using this all the time. I say . . . no.

    • Totally unacceptable. Everyone needs to stop being lazy. People can’t even find the time to pronounce the ends of words.

  13. I’ve got to plead ignorance on Wimby to a certain extent. It doesn’t sound right, but for all I know, this is what the white sweater wearing masses refer to it as over there in the U.K.

    so, Rory has penetrated sports talk, which is a little hard to believe honestly, but they are chattering away. it’s always fun listening to guys who watch maybe 4 or 5 hours of golf a year speak definitively about what happened.

  14. Hhahaha….Z Scores. Unreal. Now, if I only could remember the difference between a Z Score and a T Score.

    Shoal Creek was beastly that year.

    This is the kind of article I think that people with no common sense, or have never watched a golf tournament need. I like that it puts it in what I’d call a more proper perspective, but did anyone really think this was anywhere near Tiger? I mean, the approach shots into these greens looked like the footage they used to ban “U” grooves.

    I also like that Oosthuizen was way up there. Further adding to the “why the hell isn’t anyone mentioning Oosthuizen, oh yeah, because he doesn’t have 14 or 18 majors” theory.

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