ARDMORE, Pa. — Rory McIlroy started the U.S. Open with a run up the Rocky steps.
He ended it going a few rounds with one of his clubs.
McIlroy was miserable at Merion and he took out his frustrations on his club on No. 11 on Sunday. His first tee shot plopped in the water. He took a drop, then sent another ball into the same creek.
McIlroy then jammed the Nike club into the ground and completely twisted the head.
“I think that’s what this tournament does to you,” he said. “At one point or another, it’s got the better of you, and it definitely did this weekend.”
He briefly lost his cool, just not his sense of humor.
When he was introduced at his news conference as shooting 14 over, he joked, “You didn’t have to tell them that part.”
He shot a 6-over 76 in the final round.
McIlroy was part of the feature group the opening two rounds, playing alongside Tiger Woods and Adam Scott — Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the world ranking. All three were big duds at Merion Golf Club. Woods finished at 13 over, and Scott at 15 over.
“I thought of the three of us, the first two rounds, Adam played the best, and he was the one with the worst score,” McIlroy said. “But that is just what a U.S. Open does to you.”
Again, McIlroy never came close to winning. He finished 25th at the Masters this year and was coming off a brutal 78 at the Memorial. He barely made the cut and finished 57th. Most notably, he quit in the middle of a round at the Honda Classic.
The 24-year-old from Northern Ireland believes, though, his game is rounding into form.
“I don’t feel like my game is that far away,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been taking out of this week. It’s a matter of trying to let it all click into place.”
With his wedge as bent out of shape as his game, McIlroy finished with 13 clubs. It might not have mattered if he had 19.
The former world No. 1 again refused to blame his equipment switch for his season-long struggles.
“I sort of needed to play a little bit more,” he said. “If I was to do it all over again, I would have done things slightly differently. But you learn from that and it’s hopefully something I’ll never have to do in my career again. So I don’t mind taking three months to figure it out and go from there.”
Merion’s fifth U.S. Open is in the books.
Now the question is, will it come back for a sixth?
The USGA’s gamble to bring the event back to Merion for the first time in 32 years appeared successful. The red scores expected to dominate the 6,996-yard course never came, as the course played plenty tough.
The one thing Merion couldn’t control was the weather. Rain that soaked Merion early in the week and softened the course stayed for the first two days. Rain also fell Sunday.
The compact course was a bit of a logistical headache for players. The driving range was about a mile away on the West course, forcing players to take a shuttle to their starting tees. But the event went off without any major incidents.
The U.S Open is locked into sites through 2020.
Tamed by Merion, Woods expects the course to land another spot.
“I’m sure it will come back,” Woods said. “It could definitely host another major championship. But I don’t know if USGA wants to. They make a lot of money on other venues.”
McIlroy lobbied for a return visit.
“Some guys want to keep that 30-year gap going just because it’s beaten up on us so much,” he said. “But I think it would be great to have it back here.”
Fans seemed to have little trouble weaving their way through the crowds. The USGA capped ticket sales to about 25,000 a day, well below the average of 40,000 daily tickets at most other venues. Folks who lived in the stately homes lining the perimeter of Merion threw open their doors for a giant block party. And when it rained, fans flocked for cover at the merchandise tents.
“It was a fantastic atmosphere, the people were into it,” Woods said. “Obviously, there weren’t as many people as some of the U.S. Open sites. But this was, I think, more intimate. People were very close to you.”
Luke Donald’s errant tee shot on the third hole struck a volunteer in the elbow. Sara Clark, a standard bearer, was hit in the left elbow and knocked to the ground near the bunker. She needed an ice pack at the medical tent before she was released. Clark did not return to the course. The USGA said most standard bearers range from 14 to 21 years old.
Donald appeared visibly shook. He made bogey, and then followed that with two bogeys and a double bogey. He shot 42 on the back nine.
“She was in some pain and felt a little bit faint, and I felt a little bit faint, too, watching it,” Donald said. “Unfortunately, you never like that to happen, and it was a very tough break for her.”
Hideki Matsuyama of Japan finished at 7-over 267 and tied for the best round of the tournament with a closing 67. He tied for 10th in his first U.S Open, making him an automatic qualifier for next year. He qualified this year in the Japan sectional.
“It was a great experience for me to be able to play a course that was so difficult and the setting was very difficult, too,” he said. “But to play well the final day has given me a lot of confidence and I’m looking forward to more experiences like this.”
Matsuyama was a two-time winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur and twice made the cut at the Masters as a teenager. He was No. 1 in the world amateur ranking when he turned pro in April. He already has two wins on the Japan Golf Tour, one as an amateur.
Ernie Els cursed at a reporter to end his news conference. “I’m out of here,” he said. ... Amateur Michael Kim faded hard Sunday with a 6-over 76 and was knocked off the final leaderboard. The 19-year-old Kim and his Merion caddie were fan favorites as they worked their way into contention. “I could have stared at that leaderboard for hours on end and wouldn’t have stopped. It was pretty cool,” he said.
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