On that par 5, McIlroy sat in the middle of the fairway, 223 yards from the flag. Fitzgerald handed him a 4-iron, and he unleashed yet another glorious swing that should have been captured in a still shot, from behind, for posterity. The ball settled 10 feet from the pin. That he missed the eagle putt? No matter.
“I think everybody would agree he’s probably got more talent in his pinkie than I have in my whole body,” said Brandt Snedeker, nine shots back — and tied for third. “He is unbelievably talented. . . . He does everything well. I love watching him play because it’s a very classical, beautiful golf swing.”
That swing next laced a 7-iron just over a bunker to 15 feet at 17, and he rolled the putt right in. The galleries — worthy, at this point, of Woods in his prime — exploded for the first man ever to get to 13 under at the U.S. Open.
“That’s what you want,” said Mike Davis, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association. “You want to set up a course where if you hit good shots you’re rewarded. He did that. I think it’s great. It’s kind of like Tiger at Pebble Beach in 2000.”
That performance — when Woods tied the Open scoring record of 272, set a record of 12 under and won by an unprecedented 15 shots — remains unmatched. And on 18, McIlroy marred his Mona Lisa with a big, black mark. He missed the fairway left, tried to punch up short and right of the green, and hit it off the toe of the club — into the water.
After the resulting double bogey, McIlroy plucked the ball from the cup, and — in one motion, without looking — tossed it underhanded into the pond beside the green. As he walked across the bridge from the 18th green, past the massive grandstand in which not a soul sat silent, there was the first and only bit of frustration of McIlroy’s first two days. Whether the weekend would bring history — in a historic first major victory, or a historic collapse — he did not yet know.
“We’re only halfway there,” Fitzgerald said.
“I know more than probably anyone else what can happen,” McIlroy said.