They say you can’t win a Major on the first day but you can certainly lose one, which makes Rory McIlroy’s Oakmont struggles a real concern.
At four over par, Rory McIlroy is in danger of playing himself out of contention before half of the field, including the World No 1 Jason Day, have even set foot on the golf course in the 116th instalment of the US Open.
On an otherwise famous day for Northern Ireland, which saw their football team beat Ukraine in the European Championships, McIlroy threw in five birdies countered by a single birdie in the 13 holes he managed before Pennsylvania was submerged by an electrical storm that brought on the third and final rain delay of the day.
Unlike the weather, McIlroy’s hopes are not yet terminal and it should be noted that his position is no worse than halfway down the field, but already it feels like his task is a little akin to the national team’s next assignment – against world champions Germany.
At the Masters back in April, a skittish McIlroy saw his chances of a first Green Jacket evaporate after a third-round 77 after entering the weekend a shot off Jordan Spieth’s lead. But at least he had got himself into contention first, which is better than disappearing more quickly than the Oakmont greens in the Thursday deluge.
McIlroy’s Oakmont chances in balance
The concern for McIlroy’s Oakmont chances at this early stage is that when you look at the 27-year-old’s four Major wins to date, the common thread is that he has led from the front – or near – throughout.
At Congressional in 2011 he went wire to wire and won the US Open by eight; at Kiawah Island in the PGA the following year he was second after the first round and three clear starting the final day; at Hoylake in the Open wire to wire again; and most recently at Valhalla when he was a shot off the first-day lead and hit the front shortly after in the 2014 PGA.
In short, McIlroy is the last name the rest of the field want to see assume the lead on the first day of a Major. But you might have more confidence in the likes of Day or Spieth in recovering after a sluggish start.
McIlroy has many admirable, wondrous even, qualities. But we are about to see whether patience and resilience are among them.
The US Open is no place to chase. You grind your way up the leaderboard inch by inch, usually by weight of pars as much as birdies.
When play resumes, McIlroy must ensure no more damage is done. Then he will have the chance to regroup and watch the other half of the field struggle.
By then, it may be that his modest score looks a little less damaging.
Dejected as he looked when the hooter sounded, it might just have come at the right time. All is not yet lost. McIlroy’s Oakmont prospects hang in the balance.