All this does not mean that Congressional failed as an Open test; everybody in golf seems to assume the Open will return to Bethesda, though not in a quick rotation, with 2026, the nation’s 250th anniversary, the next likely year for serious discussion.
Nonetheless, McIlroy’s runaway, eight-shot win was certain to provoke this response. A major championship cannot risk losing its reason for being. And the U.S. Open exists for golf suffering.
Luke Donald, ranked first in the world to McIlroy’s No. 2, fared even worse, shooting 11 over. Afterward, he was asked what was hardest about Olympic. Donald couldn’t stop adding items to his list. “The firm greens, No. 1, coupled with the slope of the greens,” he said.
As you walk the course, the first impression of this Open is that seemingly fine iron shots rocket through the green into guaranteed-bogey rough unless they arrive 12 stories high and will the proper spin.
“The rough around the greens is gnarly,” Donald added. On a mere 40-yard pitch from the rough at No. 7, Stewart Cink had to take a full swing to make sure he escaped the hay. The crown result: a shot that went 100 yards on the fly into the middle of the bleachers far behind the green.
“Shot of the day,” said a marshal, grinning.
With an additional split-second to think, Donald added that “the rough off the tee” was a nuisance, too.
So, four major miseries leaped to the mind of the world’s No. 1 player and he hadn’t even mentioned the speed of the greens that make lightning seem slow and quarks a bit sluggish.
“Definitely, this is more like what we expect from the Open,” said Nick Watney, 69-75 — four-over 144, who had an albatross “two” at the par-five 17th hole on Thursday. “It’s not Rory’s fault. He set all those records, that’s great. But we knew the USGA would come out firing this year. And they haven’t disappointed.”
This day marked McIlroy’s fourth missed cut in his last five events. After a brilliant beginning to his year, with a win at the Honda Classic, a playoff loss at Charlotte, two runner-up finishes in Europe and a third at Doral, McIlroy seems to have temporarily run out of gas, perhaps enjoyed life a bit more than usual and simply misplaced his form a bit. No disaster.
“You’ve just got to keep working hard. You got to,” McIlroy said. “It doesn’t come easy to you all the time.”
This week, it’s not going to come easy to anybody. At Winged Foot in ‘74, 7 over par was the winning score. By Friday night, only two men were still under par here. That usually tips off astronomical numbers, car-crash golf and mortifying melodrama for the weekend.
We can thank McIlroy, Congressional and the USGA for that.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/boswell.