Question of if not when for Rory McIlroy's major hopes after haunting US Open capitulation at Pinehurst

Question of if not when for Rory McIlroy's major hopes after haunting US Open capitulation at Pinehurst

Rory McIlroy had promised boring golf for the duration of the US Open.

A scintillating opening round 65 of did not quite follow that mantra but, for much of the subsequent 50 holes, it was reassuringly dull, as he ground his way patiently around Pinehurst.

Only with four holes to play did he move into the lead for the first time, overturning a three-shot deficit to then lead Bryson DeChambeau by two. But, in the denouement of the tournament, boring evaded him. Instead, seemingly plagued by the enormity of being on the precipice of a first Major win in a decade, he fell apart.

Three bogeys in those final holes, including two missed putts from three to four feet said it all. The questions he had had to face at every Major about when a fifth might be on the cards had looked set to evaporate.

After his Pinehurst capitulation, they will only draw sharper into focus. Since last winning one of golf's big four, he had finished in the top 10 on 21 occasions and been runner-up four times.

This will be easily the hardest to take, a collapse that had echoes of his great nemesis at LIV Golf, Greg Norman, and it was painful to watch as he stood in a side room with his caddie, Harry Diamond, watching DeChambeau's miracle up and down from the bunker on the 18th to steal the win.

Exactly how McIlroy feels today is unclear to the wider public, having decided to forego his media duties and head straight to a waiting car and out the gates of Pinehurst, a course and a final few holes that will surely haunt him.

Nick Faldo, the grateful recipient of Norman's 1996 Masters collapse, said on Sky's commentary: "That's going to haunt Rory for the rest of his life, those two misses. Rory will be broken-hearted, so I feel for him. He's going to be gutted, absolutely gutted."

It was a week that had begun with such promise. Having started US PGA week filing divorce papers to his wife Erica, this time the divorce was off after a rapid reconciliation. There was a spring in his step the moment he arrived on site, reflected in that bogey-free opening 65 equalling his best-ever start to a Major.

DeChambeau was quick to praise McIlroy in the immediate aftermath of his victory. He said: "Rory is one of the best to ever play. Being able to fight against a great like that is pretty special. I'd love to have a lot more battles with him.

"For him to miss that putt [on 18], I'd never wish it on anybody. I'm sure it will fuel Rory's fire even more. He's a strong-minded individual. He'll win multiple Major championships, there's no doubt."

Bryson DeChambeau is one of the most engaging figures in the sport (AP)
Bryson DeChambeau is one of the most engaging figures in the sport (AP)

There is nothing boring about DeChambeau, a golfer who piled on the pounds to try to dominate the sport with his power hitting and then slimmed down again, and he often divides opinion.

But he is one of golf's biggest draws, now a two-time Major champion and a player golf fans need to see more of as the PGA Tour and LIV try to emerge with some sort of future for the sport amid their seemingly never-ending peace talks.

Like McIlroy, DeChambeau is a strong-minded individual, who showed immense mental fortitude to stay with his rival just as his own game seemed to be imploding at the pivotal moment.

He described his bunker shot on 18 as the "shot of my life" as it landed within four feet. Unlike McIlroy, he did not miss. "That was huge to get up and down and win this prestigious championship," said the 30-year-old American, who also won the event in 2020. "That'll be the highlight of my life."

In contrast, McIlroy was left to ponder when, or even if, a fifth Major will ever come.