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Tara Sullivan

Rory McIlroy is taking us on another thrill ride and The Country Club fans are totally on board

Rory McIlroy was wayward of the first tee and went out in 3-over-par 38 in the third round.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

BROOKLINE — Rory McIlroy was doing the wrong sort of moving on golf’s traditional moving day, his scores as he opened the third round of the US Open Saturday pushing him down a leaderboard he’d been stalking since play began Thursday. Bogey on No. 2. Bogey on No. 3. Bogey again on No. 6, when his putter just couldn’t find the extra inches it needed to find the hole.

For the deep and loyal legion of McIlroy fans, it was an all too familiar feeling. This is what McIlroy so often does, roaring out to a lead only to retreat when the pressure mounts. Yet if we know anything about the 33-year-old four-time major winner, that’s not always the end of his story.


So now we wait — wait to see whether he’s setting himself up for one of his similarly patented dramatic Sunday roars into another near-win (remember his majestic final round at the Masters in April, when he surged into a second-place finish?) or just setting himself up for one more major disappointment (if you somehow lost count, it’s 0-for-his-last-28 tries since 2014) after a 3-over-par 73 Saturday.

Through it all, however, one thing McIlroy also can be counted on to do, on moving day or any day at a well-attended golf tournament, is move the crowds.

Here in Brookline, where the predictions of raucousness and rampant revelry haven’t really come to pass, the spread-out galleries and set-back corporate tents diffusing the famous Boston fan base, Rory has been the one reliable guy to cause a stir. The amorphous stream of onlookers following him Saturday didn’t quite match the heyday of a Tiger Woods (whose presence is undoubtedly missed this week as he continues his physical recovery and prepares for the British Open at St. Andrews), but it represented the longest human wake created by any golfer in the field.


Step by bouncing step and smile by freckled smile, McIlroy has walked these stunning Country Club grounds to unwavering support, cries of “Let’s go Rory” and “We’re rooting for you Rory,” christening him the most consistent crowd favorite. That’s no small thing during these most uncertain days in golf, with McIlroy positioning himself squarely on the side of the PGA Tour as it deals with the defections of golfers to the controversial Saudi-backed LIV circuit.

The locals would love nothing more than to see him win his fifth career major in their backyard. His baseline appeal is obvious — an Irishness that resonates in the most concentrated Irish diaspora in the country. But it goes beyond that, too, and quantifying it can take many routes, from a game infused with creativity and wit to a career imbued with time and maturity. But whatever it is that got him here, McIlroy would like you all to know he hears you, and he appreciates you.

The feeling is mutual.

“I’ve been out here a long time. Maybe they feel like they’ve watched me grow up and they’ve sort of been on that journey with me,” he said. “I think I play quite an emotive brand of golf, if there is such a thing. I’ve always liked having crowds. I like the interaction. I enjoy that part of it. I’m certainly not one to keep my head down and sort of look straight in front of me, tunnel vision. I like looking around. I like seeing people out there.”


Let’s be honest here: If the first wish of the PGA Tour/USGA overlords were for no LIV golfer to win, a wish seemingly granted after all but four of the 15 defectors missed the cut, then the second would have to be for a strong PGA loyalist to do so instead. On that score, McIlroy is their leader in the clubhouse, and not just for carrying the momentum from his win at last week’s Canadian Open into a solid two-day start at The Country Club, but for doing so while loudly and vociferously professing his dedication and support to the PGA Tour.

Those passionate speeches have earned McIlroy a new level of respect among his like-minded peers, his willingness — no, eagerness — to speak up for what he believes is right, letting them know he has their backs.

“Because in my opinion it’s the right thing to do,” he said earlier this week. “The PGA Tour was created by people and tour players that came before us, the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer. They created something and worked hard for something, and I hate to see all the players that came before us and all the hard work that they’ve put in just come out to be nothing.”

McIlroy fought to get something good going Saturday, fought the wind and the cold and a course that was bedeviling enough to keep anyone from running away. For all the love and all the cheers and all the speeches of these past few weeks, there was still a golf tournament to play, still a major to chase. Though he does have four of them already — more than anyone else on the leaderboard this weekend — he’s better off thinking he doesn’t.


“I think I have to go out with the mind-set this week that I’m going to try to win my first again,” he said. “I’m playing as good a golf as I’ve played in a long time. I have a lot of experience. Yes, I’ve won major championships and other big events, but just because I’ve done that, it doesn’t mean that I’ll hit better golf shots or I’ll hit better putts.

“I’m in a good place. I’m really happy with where my game is at, and I think that’s the most important thing.”

In other words, when the inevitable roller-coaster ride begins, he is better now than ever at strapping in and hanging on.

“Certainly whenever you get on the crest of a wave you try to ride it as long as you can,” he said, “and I’ve gotten a little bit better at trying not to ride the other ones downwardly.”

Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.