Rory and his pointy elbows steamroll Scheffler but he must maintain focus

Ronan MacNamara

Rory McIlroy (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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At the Masters last year, Rory McIlroy was found guilty of focusing on what others were doing rather than doing what he could.

Glancing at leaderboards dotted around Augusta, McIlroy panicked when he saw that Brooks Koepka had raced into double figures early in the second round. In the end, he shot himself in the foot and missed the cut.

In April this year, McIlroy teed it up alongside Scottie Scheffler at the Masters and things did not go well, he was out of contention at the halfway stage as Scottie eased to victory.

When the US Open tee times were announced and McIlroy was drawn alongside Scheffler and the most recent major winner, Xander Schauffele it was a great yardstick to measure where McIlroy is at because despite winning three times this year, he has been nowhere near it in the opening two major championships.

McIlroy plays his best when he has a point to prove, the shoulders are cocked back and the elbows are pointing out. This was his chance to show the two players ahead of him in the world rankings that he is still the man.

McIlroy is just shy of exactly ten years since winning his last major championship but he is by far a better player than he was when he won the 2014 PGA Championship.

The test presented at Pinehurst no.2 doesn’t play to his strengths but he is more than capable of winning this week and he proved that with a flawless round of 65 to share the first round lead with Patrick Cantlay.

The omens look good for the four-time major winner who carded just his second ever bogey free opening round at the US Open, the last time was in 2011 at Congressional when he blew away the field.

The challenge that week was soft and vulnerable, this week it is firm, fast and measured golf.

It’s just the fourth time McIlroy has posted a bogey free opening round at a major championship. The previous three occasions were at the 2011 US Open, 2012 PGA Championship and 2014 Open Championship. He won those three championships.

McIlroy’s performance in round one last night exuded patience. He didn’t catch himself short sided to some pins on the dome greens and he was exemplary from the tee.

His distance control was superb and as Scheffler and Schauffele struggled beside him, McIlroy remained focused on his job although the psychological edge of being six shots ahead of Scheffler will not be lost on him.

The Holywood man has been bullish on his chances of finally winning a fifth major title, stating that he is as close as he has ever been to ending the drought.

It sounds simple, too simple, but concentration and focus will be the key. McIlroy must remain tuned in to what he needs to do. He can’t afford a slack nine holes or a slow six hole stretch and Thursday’s 65 must be backed up by something on Friday morning. He has the opportunity to go out and send a message to the rest of the field.

“I think he’ll have an advantage around Pinehurst because of his ability to chip, there’s a lot of chipping, a lot of roll-off areas. He’s one of the best chippers in the game for all the talk of his long hitting. I think his putting is in good shape,” said Paul McGinley last week and he was proved right with McIlroy chipping in for birdie early in his round and he rolled in a 20-footer for a closing birdie with a vintage confidence and swagger.

McGinley also echoed that McIlroy must find a way to maintain concentration for four days in the major championships.

Nobody has won a US Open at Pinehurst with a double bogey in its three previous editions.

“The challenge for Rory is not a physical one and this is not about heart, this is not about guile. This is about sustaining focus and concentration for four days. That’s what this is about,” added McGinley.
“And it’s been able to do that without a slow six holes or a slow nine holes or a couple of big mistakes, and it’s that ability to keep the intensity to keep the intensity and the focus for four days. 
“That’s what the challenge is. It’s not a question of him not having the artillery or the mental ability to do it. It’s about can he sustain his focus to the intense levels that’s needed. That’s what the question is. 
“He can do it in PGA events, he has win more than anybody else in the last 10 years, comfortably. Miles ahead of anybody else.”
If McIlroy plays the same golf for the next three days, it is very hard to see him being beaten.

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