McIlroy gaps field at US Open

BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2011 US Open | Day Three | 19 Jun 2011

At the Congressional Country club in Bethesda in Maryland tomorrow, history appears likely to be made. In many respects it already has.

The 22 year old Northern Irishman, Rory McIlroy has spent the opening 54 holes of the 2011 US Open breaking records as he goes. On Championship Sunday, he appears almost certain to add to that list.

With a massive eight shot lead over Korean Y.E. Yang and another shot back to Australia’s Jason Day, England’s Lee Westwood and the lone American in this most patriotic of American cities, Robert Garrigus, we appear almost certain to witness the birth of a great superstar in 24 hours time.

A look at some of the facts from day three tells the story of his domination. McIlroy’s eight-stroke lead trails only Tiger Woods, who led by 10 strokes in 2000 at Pebble Beach, for largest 54-hole lead in U.S. Open history.

McIlroy’s total of 199 is the lowest 54-hole score in U.S. Open history surpassing Jim Furyk’s record of 200 in 2003 at Olympia Fields and is the first player to shoot in the 60s in the first three rounds of the U.S. Open since Jim Furyk (67-66-67) and Stephen Leaney (67-68-68) did so at Olympia Fields (Ill). C.C. in 2003.

At 22 years, 1 month, 14 days, McIlroy is the youngest 54-hole leader since Jim Simons in 1971 at Merion, who was 21 years, 1 month, 5 days.

McIlroy is the first player to reach 14-under-par in U.S. Open history, breaking the record he set yesterday of 13-under-par. McIlroy is the first player to shoot in the 60s in the first three rounds of the U.S. Open since Jim Furyk (67-66-67) and Stephen Leaney (67-68-68) did so at Olympia Fields (Ill). C.C. in 2003.

Anyone hoping for a chink in the armour of the tearaway leader on day three – in the faint hope that this might yet develop into a contest – would have been disappointed. McIlroy, with a desire to maintain his policy of playing what is his natural game, marched on.

It took five holes to record his first birdie of the day but when he found the green at the par five 9th and moved to 13 under for the tournament, any suggestion of a repeat former demises was quickly being put to rest.

Fortunately for those thinking they may still have faint hope, McIlroy did not birdie two of the easiest holes of the day, the 6th and 16th but importantly for him he was almost mistake free other than the wild drive at the third and the bogey at the shortened par three 10th.

“It definitely wasn’t as easy as it was the first couple of days, said McIlory after his round. “ I knew that I was going to feel a little bit of pressure and a little bit of nerves, and it took me a few holes to get into the round. But I think the up and down on 3 from 90 yards was huge. That gave me a little bit of momentum. I sort of found my rhythm quite quickly after that.”

As he strolled down the 18th fairway most were resigned to the fact that in 24 hours they would be seeing a similarly triumphant walk by a man who will win many of the great championships of golf.

As Tom Watson experienced after he too had been scrutinised regarding his capacity to get the job done early in his career, the floodgates will surely open for McIlroy as there is no greater catalyst for success than knowing you can do it rather than just thinking or hoping you can.

McIlroy had a game plan today to eliminate any chance of complacency or allowing his mind to wander. “What I did today, I tried to set myself a little target, little goals, just because it kept me from focusing on the leaderboard and focusing on how far ahead I was or anything like that. So just giving yourself little goals throughout the round, that really kept me in the present and kept me focused on my game.”

On the few occasions he found trouble he was not reckless with his recovery but measured and the one bogey he took was brought about by too good of a shot rather than the other way round. His tee shot at the 10th pitched just a touch too far and when he found the back bunker his task of making par was always going to be a tough one.

McIlroy’s closest 36 hole pursuer Yang faltered with an early bogey and when he did others began to emerge as the players to at least try and put some heat on the leader. The brilliant Australian Jason Day took a while to get moving in his round but when he did the birdies began to flow. He two putted the 6th for birdie then holed a 12 footer at the 7th to move to 1 under for the tournament.

At the 8th Day hit a delightful pitch from the right hand rough to set up yet another birdie but although he hit two superb shots at the reachable 9th he was unable to get up and down form just off the back edge.

At the 10th however Day responded brilliantly all but holing his tee shot and when he converted from just behind the hole he was at 3 under and chasing hard. A birdie at the 16th and then again from long range at the last and he would sign for a round of 65 and although a massive 9 shots from the leader he has been very impressive in his first US Open.

“Obviously when I got on to the practice area this morning, I saw Webb Simpson walk through 9 holes at 4 under par so I knew if you could play well, you could go out and shoot a low score on the front nine,” said Day.

“I had a good warm up. I drove the ball well. Hit a lot of good quality second shots into the front nine. I fell asleep during the second during the middle of my round, which didn’t help. But those few key momentum putts that I needed to hole obviously to keep my round moving forward. I then made a good birdie on 16 and a good birdie on 18 which was nice.”

“I can’t say that I wanted to play for second place," said Day when asked if he had given up hopes of winning. “ I always want to try to win. And, you know, playing for second place, I guess you’re playing for first loser. You’ve got to go out there I didn’t really think about anything at all. I went out there and I just said, look, I’ve got to put up at least a decent score today to actually have a shot.”

Lee Westwood was also a big mover on day three. The Englishman would also record a round of 65 and sits in third position along with Day, that pair playing together in the penultimate group tomorrow.

Yang came back late in the day with birdies at the 14th and 16th and at 6 under he is the leader’s closest pursuer. He is a typically tough Korean competitor who has already displayed his great in the heat of the battle, having run down Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship two years ago. He has created yet another chance of another top finish in a major tomorrow although like the rest of the field it appears he is in the race for second prize only.

“I wanted to catch up a little bit but I have to be honest with you the player with the better shot, with the better putt, with the better composure is leading right now, said Yang. “ So I have no regrets. Right now the better player is leading.

“I think it’s actually a race for second place right now. I’ll try and catch up with Rory as much as possible, as much as I can. But if he doesn’t let go, it’s going to be a race for second place. I’m playing some good golf right now, actually. There are some areas that I need improvement. But at the same time, I can’t complain at the score I have right now on this type of course. Let the best second place win.”

Garrigus has snuck under the radar somewhat in this event. The 33 year old American won on the PGA Tour last year but is relatively unheralded and is playing in just his third US Open and to date has not made a cut.

The final day of the US Open might not be the contest that many hope for but what it will potentially offer is the opportunity to see one of the great victories in modern day major championship golf. McIlroy has been a class above to date and deserves the title.

The US Open title is not always given out on who deserves it however and McIlroy will have to work hard to put all the distractions aside. He has shown an amazing ability to do that to date and tomorrow should see history made and the career of perhaps a future great begin in earnest.

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    About the Author: Bruce Young

    A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of the game comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.


    Read all of Bruce's articles »

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