BETHESDA, Md. -- The skies at Congressional Country Club darkened late in the day on Saturday, and with the decision to tee the leaders off a little later than normal, golfers were still trying to put the finishing touches on the best scoring day in the history of this tournament.
There standing in the middle of the 17th fairway, a place on holes he has spent most of his time this week, was Rory McIlroy, a kid by definition but walking with the conviction of a veteran in a place he knows he should be. All of a sudden, eight college boys that took full advantage of the drink tent it seemed, started a chant next to me of "Ro-ry! Ro-ry! Ro-ry!," and as McIlroy smirked in their direction, one of the boys yelled, "Swagger out, Rory! Swagger out!"
That's whats happening here at Congressional, where Rory McIlroy has turned a tough test of golf into his own personal highlight show.
A bogey on the 10th hole on Saturday, his only of the week so far, was quickly followed up by a second shot out of the left rough on the 11th that caused me to say outloud, "There's no way he's firing at this pin right here is he?" He was, it landed pin high, rolled a few feet out, and was quickly knocked in the hole for a follow-up birdie and a fist pump made famous by You Know Who.
McIlroy isn't going to lose this U.S. Open. The course is there for the taking, as we saw with both Jason Day and Lee Westwood in the third round, but even if someone went out on Sunday and posted 65, it would still mean the guy swinging as good as anyone since the 2000 British Open would have to post something over par, and that isn't happening.
He's going to win because he has that look in his eye. The way he's hitting shots and the way he's acknowledging the fans and even the way he smiles when lengthy birdie putts don't go in. It's almost an, "Aww, I should have made that" look that really makes you believe him when he says he wants to be eight, nine and even 10 shots up on the field.
Louis Oosthuizen ran away with the British last year, and it wasn't great theatre. With all due respect to the South African, he doesn't have the upside that McIlroy does. He's a great player, and did something to St. Andrews that shouldn't have been done, but if he wins three majors over his career it would be surprising. With Rory, if he won three majors in one season it probably wouldn't shock a lot of people, myself included.
I've said in the past that we wouldn't see another guy like Tiger dominate majors, but we're a round away, and a terrible stumble on Sunday at Augusta from talking about a Grand Slam contender, and while that sentence has a lot of "what ifs" associated with it, you still have to sit back and be impressed.
The tent I've waddled up to each day by the 11th hole has been well occupied each afternoon. Wives sitting around enjoying the free wine, and husbands scarfing down the appetizers while checking periodically with what's happening in the tournament. The U.S. Open is just as much a social event as it is sporting, and some people just like to go for something to do. When McIlroy's hurricane of fans rushed by the 11th on Saturday, and he cashed that birdie putt, the entire tent emptied like someone had pulled the fire alarm.
Everyone was rushing to catch a glimpse of this kid while they could. It almost makes you want to start a chant for him. "Ro-ry! Ro-ry! Ro-ry!"
He's changing the way golf is played, while the man that initially did that is on his couch, probably watching in awe. He should be. The future of golf is happening right now.
- Rory McIlroy
- Congressional Country Club