SAN FRANCISCO - After the putt for eagle had burned the edge and rolled 8 feet past the hole, Rory McIlroy marked his ball, stepped back, folded his arms in disgust, and looked off into the distance, scanning the crowd for something - anything - positive.
Roughly 10 minutes later, McIlroy ran a 15-foot birdie putt 3 feet past the hole, then carelessly charged the comebacker, watching the ball race 5 feet by, taking with it any remote chance at playing on the weekend.
It was that kind of US Open for McIlroy, and couldn’t have been more opposite than his four-day stroll last year when he left Congressional Country Club with a glistening trophy and a long trail of tournament records.
What a difference a year makes. McIlroy became the first defending US Open champion to miss the cut since Angel Cabrera four years ago, shooting 77-73 on the Lake Course at the Olympic Club to finish at 10-over-par 150. It’s 21 shots higher, in relation to par, than his two-round total from Congressional, when his 65-66 set one of many scoring marks for the week.
It left McIlroy frustrated, exasperated, and a bit confused.
“I don’t feel like I played that badly for the last two days,’’ McIlroy said. “It’s just such a demanding golf course and just punishes the slightest shot that’s off line or that’s maybe not the right distance or whatever, and that’s how I feel. You really have to be so precise out there and if not you’re going to get punished.’’
He was certainly slapped around for two days. Luke Donald, too, the world’s top-ranked player joining No. 2 McIlroy in the missed pile after going 79-72. They were paired with No. 3 Lee Westwood (73-72), the only member of the grouping good enough to qualify for the weekend.
The top three players in the world were grouped together to create excitement and anticipation, the trio expected by many to sizzle this week in the Bay Area. Instead, McIlroy and Donald fizzled.
“It wasn’t to be, and I’m trying to learn from it and come back stronger next time,’’ said Donald, now 0 for 36 in major championships. “I want to win one more than any of you guys know. And obviously I’ll continue to try and do that.’’
Both McIlroy and Donald put themselves in tough spots with poor opening rounds, in desperate need of a Friday close to par if they wanted to play on Saturday. Neither got anything going, Donald finally rolling in a 35-foot putt on No. 4 for a rare birdie (the group started on No. 9). Donald raised both hands, in mock amazement, when the putt dropped. A day late, and in the end, a few shots short.
“I think I missed nine putts inside 10 feet yesterday and just couldn’t get the feel for the greens, the reads, the speed,’’ Donald said. “I just didn’t come here swinging well enough, and obviously my putter was a bit cold this week.’’
McIlroy gave himself plenty of chances coming in - birdie putt at the sixth, eagle putt on No. 7, birdie putt at the eighth - but couldn’t hole anything when the moment called for it.
“Obviously disappointed. It wasn’t the way I wanted to play,’’ said McIlroy, who spent four days practicing at Olympic two weeks ago. “I knew I needed a few birdies coming in today, so I just tried to attack as much as I could and go for pins.
“I felt like I had some good shots out there and I don’t think the score that’s on the board really reflects how I played.’’