There was no better way for golf to respond to the LIV threat last week than Rory McIlroy and Linn Grant producing great stories and winning in brilliant circumstances. Fittingly, we move onto the third major of the men’s season rather than a mundane PGA Tour event.
Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Seamus Power head to Brookline for the U.S. Open and they will be joined by their fellow loyal PGA Tour members and the LIV boys who have not been banned from America’s National Open by the USGA.
While the USGA cannot come under fire for taking a lenient stance on the PGA Tour castaways, they will be hoping to avoid the same scrutiny for their course setup which is always a simmering undertone to these championships.
Who can forget the state of Chambers Bay, the way they handled Dustin Johnson’s supposed rules infraction a year later or the absolute state of the greens at Shinnecock Hills in 2018? Phil Mickelson showed us all then!
That being said, they seem to be getting it right lately and they got the course setup spot on at Winged Foot last year and here’s hoping the golf can do the talking and we can focus on nothing else but the golf for the next four days.
Rory McIlroy arrives in arguably his best form since the Covid pandemic. I always felt that if he was to break his eight-year major championship drought, he needed to win another PGA Tour event. What a time to do it and in such circumstances, staring down Justin Thomas and beating him down the stretch in the Canadian Open last week.
McIlroy’s major form has been good this year, that breathtaking final round 64 at Augusta led to his best ever finish at the Masters as he secured 2nd place before he let a great opportunity slip at Southern Hills at last month’s PGA Championship.
The Holywood native has four top-10 finishes in his last five starts with his worst result a T-18 at the Memorial and he feels ready to contend this week.
“It certainly puts a pep in your step. It gives you a lot of confidence,” McIlroy said of his win in Toronto.
“Going into last week, even coming off Memorial where I didn’t have my best week, I still knew my game was there. I still knew that I was playing well, so regardless whether I got — I think it was the fashion in which I won last week was what gave me the most pride.
“Got a lead early in the back nine. Lost that lead. Was tied with two holes to go, and then I showed some really good resilience and birdied the last two holes to get the job done.
“I think that the fashion in which I won was what made me the proudest of the victory. Yeah, anytime you follow — I did the same thing in 2019 going into the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and played pretty well there.
“I didn’t play well enough to live with Gary that week, but I feel everything is certainly trending in the right direction, and I’m happy with where the game is at,” added McIlroy who tees off alongside Hideki Matsuyama and Xander Schauffele.
The 21-time PGA Tour winner arrived on-site the day after his superb win in Canada and he likes what he has seen of Brookline so far.
“I liked it. I liked what I saw. I played here a couple of years ago. I guess I played all the holes that are going to be played this week, but in a different setup or different routing, I guess.
“Sort of had to jog my memory a little bit and try to remember, but yeah, great setup.
“It seems pretty playable off the tee. There’s some rough, but if you just miss a fairway, you can certainly get it to the green. You’re going to lose control of your ball and not be able to spin it into the greens, but at least on the front nine there’s a lot of greens that have very manicured run-ups, so the greens probably play a little longer than they actually are.
“Maybe not quite as much as like a Winged Foot, where I think you’re going to have to be a little bit more strategic than we were there, but overall, great setup.
“That front nine has two short par-4s. It’s got a very reachable par-5. The two par-3s are pretty tough. A couple of longer par-4s.”
Shane Lowry is up to 24th in the Official World Golf Rankings, his highest ranking in over two years while statistically he is the 8th best player based on form according to Data Golf.
A win seems tantalisingly close for the Clara man and a US Open seems as good a place as any to notch his first in almost three years while giving him the chance to atone for a missed opportunity in 2016.
Lowry has a second place, two third placed finishes and a tenth place finish on the PGA Tour this season so it is safe to say he has done everything but win.
The 2019 Open champion will play his opening two rounds alongside Phil Mickelson and Louis Oosthuizen and he has a decent record at the US Open.
Lowry’s best finish is that share of second at Oakmont when he saw a four-shot 54-hole lead disappear. He finished in a share of 9th at Chambers Bay the year previous and has missed the cut just once in his last seven starts at the US Open.
Waterford’s Seamus Power has taken the road less travelled to get to the top of the game but he looks right at home in major championships. Two starts, two cuts and a maiden top-10 at last month’s PGA Championship where the opportunity to win might have presented itself had it not been for an early double-bogey in his final round.
The Tooraneena native tees off alongside Australia’s Min Woo Lee and Korea’s Kim Joo Hyung.
Power is making his US Open debut this week and he might spring a surprise again. He ranks inside the top-10 in greens in regulation (70%) while he is in the top-20 in par-4 efficiency from 450-500 yards of which there are 8 around Brookline.
You might not have thought it looking at the scenes of Justin Leonard and co swarming the green in the 1999 Ryder Cup, but the putting surfaces are very small and that should suit Power who has two top-10 finishes at Pebble Beach while the greens at Southern Hills were also small.
Whatever happens, let the golf do the talking this week!