Rory McIlroy’s historic U. S. Open win not the most impressive
WASHINGTON, June 20, 2011— “Watch this weekend to see how the pressure combined with the stage produces one of the more memorable finishes in golf.” That’s my quote from last week and wrong as I could be. I didn’t take into account that Rory McIlroy would make history on Thursday and Friday, rendering the weekend pretty much a moot point, unless you are a fan of crazy records being shattered and other storylines which just wouldn’t make sense at any other Open. Other than a great Texas wedge from off the front of the putting surface by McIlroy on the final hole, the action on eighteen was non-existent. For that matter the action was missing at the other seventeen holes too.
Rory broke twelve records en route to his eight stroke victory at Congressional Country Club and came close to a few others as well. The biggest record to topple was his 268 scoring mark, obliterating the previous mark of 272 held by Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Lee Janzen, and Jim Furyk. He broke scoring records at the 36-hole and 54-hole marks as well. He didn’t break Tiger’s margin of victory at Pebble Beach back in 2000, though, which begs the question: What’s the more impressive demonstration?
First and foremost, what Rory McIlroy did this past week was nothing less than extraordinary. He was by far the best golfer on Congressional’s Blue Course by a wider margin than maybe even the eight strokes on the scoreboard showed. His golf was almost boring, as it was not necessary to even think about going for par fives in two or risking anything other than the middle of the green everywhere else.
Rory’s ego was in check as he didn’t waste any energy trying to lap the field. He was authoritative on Sunday with every shot he took, clearly benefitting from his Augusta slip-up. He knew that it was more important to walk away with victory now more than anything else in order to take the next step in his professional maturation. Now he has set the stage for many more possible majors without the label of “choker” ringing in his ear.
That said, Tiger Wood’s 15 stroke bludgeoning was the more impressive of the two Open victories. The difference was in the course setup of each layout and the proof is in the scoring by everyone besides the two victors. 20 golfers were under par by Sunday evening. Not since 1990 (27 at Medinah) has a field had more than ten golfers under par. Tiger was the only one to break par in 2000. In fact, Ernie Els finished three over par as the second place representative.
So what was the difference between Pebble of 2000 and Congressional of 2011? Just enough rain fell at Congressional to soften the putting surfaces this past weekend. It is rare to see as many approaches with backspin as we saw in this Open and that was one thing missing at a dry Pebble Beach. Also, the high temperatures thinned out a good amount of the fescue in the rough that lined the Blue Course, allowing for easier recovery than what has been seen in years past.
With the rough down, there were less holes at Congressional that could lead to big numbers. In fact, only the 10th and 11th had water which could have created a big number. Coupled with an errant tee shot, the lake surrounding 18 green did catch a few (including both Mickelson and McIlroy). Although the sixth hole also had water, on such a short par five the chance for recovery without losing ground was rather high. Pebble’s holes along the ocean edge created ample opportunity for big numbers.
There were other tremendous accomplishments at Congressional that seemed to show the golf course was a little on the defenseless side than in the past. Jason Day made a case for thin rough on Sunday as he completed his last 45 holes without a bogey. In every year but a few he would have won the Open outright. The same could be said for the two leading Americans, Kevin Chappell and Robert Garrigus.
Garrigus put himself in rarified air by becoming the fifth player in history to finish all four rounds under par despite NBC only showing four of his shots on Sunday (three on eighteen). Of course, 22-year old McIlroy (youngest U. S. Open winner since Bobby Jones in 1923) soon thereafter became the sixth player to accomplish that same feat. He was also only the third champion to play all four rounds under 70. Even the low amateur, Patrick Cantlay, would have won more than 25% of the past U. S. Opens (he finished even par).
The numbers speak for themselves: Tiger’s victory at Pebble Beach was more impressive a landmark win than McIlroy’s victory. Don’t get me wrong. I am very excited for McIlroy but we all expected something that could happen. Was it such a surprise considering his past record (62 at Quail Hollow, 63 at the Old Course, etc.)? Rory McIlroy has been destined for greatness for a few years now and unlike many others along that road, he seems to be rising to the occasion.
About Richard: Richard Mandell runs Richard Mandell Golf Architecture in Pinehurst, North Carolina (www.golf-architecture.com). Educated as a Landscape Architect at the University of Georgia (he is licensed in both North and South Carolina), Richard has close to two decades’ experience in designing new golf courses and renovating existing ones. Richard may also be the only golf architect in the world who is a certified arborist. He co-hosts a weekly golf radio talk show in Pinehurst and continues to teach a class on Golf Architecture at North Carolina State University which he started in 1997. Mr. Mandell also wrote the award-winning book, Pinehurst ~ Home of American Golf - The Evolution of a Legend (International Network of Golf Book of the Year – 2007).
Richard Mandell has been a Golf Content Creator for the Washington Times Communities since October 20, 2008. Read more of Richard's work at Golf Today: Players, Events and Fields in the Communities at the Washington Times. Follow Richard on Twitter @RichardMandell.