PEBBLE BEACH, CA. (Reuters) - If Rory McIlroy falls narrowly short of winning the U.S. Open on Sunday, he might well look back with regret at the mess he made of the 14th hole in the second round at Pebble Beach.
Although McIlroy finished the day only four strokes behind halfway leader Gary Woodland, he could have — and probably should have — been closer.
Even after a bogey at the 13th hole, his first dropped shot since his opening hole on Thursday, the Northern Irishman was well positioned when he approached the par-five 14th.
A couple of poor shots compounded by some questionable course management — “unforced errors” as the 30-year-old himself put it — saw him drop to even par for the day, however.
“To do all that hard work over the first 12 holes, and then to lose it in two holes, 13 and 14 was disappointing,” McIlroy said.
A poor wedge shot from 110 yards started the horror show. He pushed it a little and watched in dismay as his ball rolled all the way back off the front of the green and did not stop until it was 25 yards from the cup.
“I probably missed four or five yards right of where I needed to, and it came back down the hill, and then you’re in an awkward spot,” he said.
With a gaping bunker between his ball and the hole, he conjured up his inner Phil Mickelson and attempted to hit a fancy flop shot that would stop on a dime instead of taking his medicine and hitting a more conventional shot past the pin.
All he did was chunk his ball into the bunker.
“You’re trying to play a very precise shot to get it close to the hole to save your par, and that didn’t go to plan,” he explained.
“It just sort of compounded the error with another error, which you never really want to do.”
McIlroy showed some resolve, however, bouncing back with birdies at the next two holes and signing for a two-under-par 69.
How he could do with another finish like that he produced at the Canadian Open last weekend, when he closed 64-61 to blow away the field by seven strokes.
“Fairways, greens, it sounds boring, it sounds cliche but that’s what you need to do out here,” he said, eyeing the task ahead as he seeks to break his nearly five-year major drought.
“Look, it’s not going to be easy over the weekend, you’re going to make bogeys, you’re going to make mistakes, it’s going to happen. And if I can keep responding to those mistakes like I did today I’ll be right there.”
Reporting by Steve Keating; Writing by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Nick Mulvenney