Rory McIlroy's bid for fifth Major turning into a damp squib
RORY McILROY’S bid for a fifth major win was turning into a damp squib at a rain-delayed US Open at soggy Oakmont.
The 116th staging of the famous championship was meant to spark with the danger of a high-tension cable at the tough Pittsburgh venue. But instead had all the drama of a damp box of matches with McIlroy spluttering through his first 12 holes in three over par after three delays for thunderstorms and torrential rain.
With overnight storms dumping an inch of rain on Oakmont’s rolling fairways and slick greens, another 0.3 inches fell during the course of the morning and early afternoon, bringing two delays in play that added up to just under four hours.
Play was then called to a halt for a third time at just before 4pm local time with the Holywood star battling to get his round back on track. With balls spinning back on greens or refusing to come back off once slippery slopes and with drives coming up far short of where they were finishing earlier in the week, the players were facing a far different Oakmont to the one they faced in practice.
McIlroy began nervously, taking a driving iron off the first tee and pulling it slightly into the first cut of rough. It was hardly the kind of shot to settle nerves though he easily made par, firing a short iron to the heart of the green that spun back on the rain-softened surface, leaving him an easy two-putt from 25 feet.
When he shoved his driving iron into a cavernous fairway bunker at the 340 yard second, it was clear that something was not quite right. Forced to splash out, he hit his third shot to 30 feet and never threatened to hole an uphill putt to a fiendish pin position in the back right corner of the green.
Playing partners Rickie Fowler and Danny Willett were both one under after two but there was grief to come for all three over the tough opening stretch. McIlroy took his new driving iron off the tee at the fourth to avoid the dreaded Church Pews on the left. But he cut it right into another deep trap and while he advanced it 70 yards and fired a fine third to 10 feet, he missed the putt to go two over.
He eventually hit timber at the second, reducing the 609-yard par-five to two three woods, a chip and one putt. Unusually, the chip came on the green, where McIlroy was stymied by the fringe and took the aerial route.
Back to one over, he looked likely to ease back to level par at the next but his five footer failed to drop. As many of the early starters took advantage of the soft conditions, McIlroy had to scramble for par at the par-three sixth but immediately bogeyed the seventh, fluffing a greenside chip from the fringe and missing a 15 footer for par just before play was suspended for the first time.
He came back and missed a five footer for birdie at the 11th, then hooked horribly into deep rough at the 663 yard 12th, hacked out and carved his three wood approach into more rough before missing a slick 15 footer for par.
Nineteen-year-old amateur Scottie Scheffler led in the clubhouse on one under after a 69 with rookie professional Andrew Landry three under with a 10 foot birdie putt on the ninth green to get to four under.
The good news for Irish golf fans was that Shane Lowry was on level par playing the 12th. The big Offaly man drove into sand at the first but his nerves were immediately eased when he holed his third from 66 yards for an unlikely birdie.
He then saved par with a chip and putt after coming off the front of the dangerous second, chipped and putted for par again at the third before the first delay stopped him in his tracks at the sixth. He returned after a 1 hour 19 minute delay to par the sixth and bogey the seventh before play was delayed again for two hours and 26 minutes.
When he came back out, he bogeyed the ninth to turn in one over par but birdied the 11th from 15 feet and was left with a 27 footer up the green for birdie at the 12th.