Others, however, are delighted to lose their minds. After all, it’s not themselves they put at risk. It’s just the gifted kid they claim to adore.
“Rory has the potential to be the next Tiger Woods,” said reigning U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, his countryman from Northern Ireland.
Padraig Harrington, a multiple major championship winner, said that McIlroy could break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships.
“Oh, Paddy, Paddy, Paddy,” said McIlroy, dismayed, putting his hands over his head and forcing his hat down over his brow when he heard those tempt-fate words.
Perhaps Mr. Harrington can claim he was overserved.
At his post-round news conference, McIlroy obligingly answered the question that is always ducked on Saturday night by veterans, covered with their psychic scars: What would it mean to you to win the U.S. Open? McIlroy talked about his parents’ sacrifices. I wanted to tackle him and stomp the microphone.
“The standing ovations were incredible, fantastic,” McIlroy said. “I just hope I can give them something to cheer about tomorrow.”
The hell with ‘em. Win it for yourself.
The kid is almost certainly going to make it. He’s not the nutty one. But it may not be as easy as all the bandwagon jumpers think. Perhaps they’re so giddy because they didn’t actually follow McIlroy and see how he actually shot his 68; they just saw a score.
They didn’t see his five drives into the rough or the half-dozen 12-to-15-foot birdie putts he missed, making him progressively more annoyed. He could be a dozen shots ahead by now, and he knows it. They didn’t see the three traps that caught him or the up-and-down from 90 yards he made to make to stabilize his round at the third hole.
“The [par] saves at three and four were huge. They changed things immensely,” McIlroy said. “After that, I found my rhythm and played some really good golf.”
Those two pars helped. But the real stabilizing shots came later. At No. 9, a 584-yard par five fronted by a vast gulch, few try to reach the green in two shots. McIlroy hit what observers at the hole called the longest drive of the day at that hole, leaving him a mere 224-yard 4-iron to the green to set up a two-putt birdie. So, 360-yard drive?
Even champions need a break at the right time. McIlroy lit up when he arrived in the deep rough left of the 11th fairway. He’d just bogeyed the 10th hole — his first bogey of the Open. There before him was a miraculously lucky lie in the hay. McIlroy grabbed the chance and scalded a 188-yard 7-iron shot that blanked the flag for a 15-foot birdie.