Rory McIlroy on U.S. Open heartbreak: 'It was a great day until it wasn't'

What, you thought Rory McIlroy was going to just give up? Retire? Throw his clubs in a dumpster and go play minor-league baseball? Come on.

When the golf world last saw McIlroy, he was walking through a Pinehurst, North Carolina, parking lot, brokenhearted at letting yet another chance at a major — maybe his best chance — slip through his hands yet again. He'd lost the U.S. Open, thanks to two crucial missed short putts in the final three holes, and he had nothing left to give as Bryson DeChambeau celebrated a few dozen yards away.

McIlroy went to ground then, withdrawing from a planned tournament appearance and disappearing into silence right up until Wednesday morning. In advance of this week's Scottish Open, where he's the defending champion, McIlroy spoke publicly for the first time since his U.S. Open debacle, and he sounded ready to put the whole nightmare behind him.

"It was a great day until it wasn't," McIlroy said. "It was a tough day. It was a tough few days after that, obviously. But I think as you get further away from it happening, you start to see the positives and you start to see all the good things that you did throughout the week."

Among McIlroy's spectacular major misses — the Masters in 2011, the Open Championship in 2022 — the Pinehurst U.S. Open has to rank high on the list. Leading the tournament with a chance to win, missing two short putts in a matter of minutes ... it was a wrenching loss, and the only consolation is that this wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime chance. McIlroy has been in position to win a major before — he's actually done it four times, though not in awhile — and he almost surely will be again.

"I think as you achieve more in the game, you can soften the blow, if you look at everything I've been able to accomplish," he said. "It's been a while since I've won a major, but it hurt, but I felt worse after some other losses. I felt worse after Augusta in '11 and I felt worse after St Andrews. It was up there with the tough losses but not the toughest."

In the immediate aftermath of the loss, McIlroy lost himself in crowds. "Went to Manhattan, which was nice," he said. "It was nice to sort of blend in with the city a little bit. I walked around. I walked the High Line a couple of times."

But after a couple days of that, and after fielding consoling calls and texts, it was back to work. McIlroy said he spotted some elements in his game — besides the putting, of course — that he wants to work on heading into this week and next week's Open Championship.

"I stewed on what happened at Pinehurst for a couple of days, but then, yeah, thankfully I can go home and look at what I've achieved in the game and sort of feel OK about myself," he said. "Look, it was a great opportunity. It passed me by but hopefully when I get that next opportunity, it won't pass me by."

McIlroy will be a focus of the coverage at the Open Championship, and much will be made of how he rebounded from adversity. He bounced back from the 2011 Masters loss by winning the U.S. Open, and the 2022 Open loss by winning the Tour Championship. Does that mean another major is just a few days away? McIlroy knows what can happen at a major, on both ends of the spectrum.

"When I look back on that day, just like I look back on some of my toughest moments in my career, I'll learn a lot from it and I'll hopefully put that to good use," he said. "It's something that's been a bit of a theme throughout my career. I've been able to take those tough moments and turn them into great things not very long after that."

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