Rory McIlroy patiently overcomes anger, obstacles to grab share of U.S. Open lead at The Country Club

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BROOKLINE, Mass. – On a cool, calm Thursday played under overcast skies, Rory McIlroy was steaming on the fifth hole of his first round at The Country Club in the 122nd U.S. Open.

On the drivable par 4, McIlroy’s tee shot wound up in burly, high rough rimming a bunker. He was forced to take a very awkward stance in the bunker and choke down to the shaft. And then he swatted the ball 10 yards into another bunker and took some mighty whacks at the sand in frustration.

But McIlroy collected himself and made a 13-footer for par to keep momentum on his side. He would finish out his second nine with birdies on two of his final three holes to post a 3-under-par 67 to grab a share of the clubhouse lead.

“You’re going to encounter things at a U.S. Open, whether they be lies or stuff like that, that you just don’t really encounter any other week,” McIlroy said. “The thickest rough on the course is around the edges of the bunkers. So I was sort of cursing the USGA.

“You just have to accept it. I gave the sand a couple of whacks because I’d already messed it up so it wasn’t like it was much more work for Harry (Diamond, his caddie), and then I just reset and played a decent bunker shot, and then it was really nice to hole that putt.”

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He made a lot of other putts and for the second consecutive major, found himself atop the leaderboard when he finished play; he grabbed the opening-round lead with a 65 in last month’s PGA Championship before fading, then rallying in the last round but coming up short en route to finishing eighth.

“Sitting here talking about the bad stuff when 17 of the holes were really good. I’m happy with the start. I thought my mindset was really good out there,” McIlroy said. “A really solid start. You’d take 67 around this golf course any day. Even though I’m standing up here slightly frustrated that I bogeyed the last, it’s a great start to the tournament.

I felt like I did most things well today. I certainly putted well, and I hit the ball in the right spots, and I hit a lot of greens, gave myself plenty of chances. Just basically did everything that you need to do at a U.S. Open.”

McIlroy shared the early lead with Callum Tarren, David Lingmerth and Joel Dahmen. The week didn’t start well for Tarren as his clubs didn’t arrive with him from Toronto. It was the second time at a U.S. Open his clubs weren’t with him after a flight. In the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, he didn’t get his clubs until the day before the tournament started. This year, however, there was only a one day delay.

Tarren finished birdie-eagle-par.

“This morning when we teed off, there was not much wind at all,” said Tarren, who went off at 6:45 a.m. local time. “And, obviously, we teed off so early, the greens were a little bit softer, and there wasn’t much wind, so I knew that.

“My caddie kept saying, pars are good, pars are good, and I made a lot of pars, but to have a finish like that just tops the round off.”

Two-time major champion Collin Morikawa, who has had an off season, by his standards, bogeyed his last for a 69. He also opened both of his major victories with scores in the 60s.

McIlroy has won four majors, but his most recent came eight years ago in the 2014 PGA Championship. That week, he became the last player to win a major championship after winning the week prior (he won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio).

He can do it again. The 2011 U.S. Open champion won last week’s RBC Canadian Open for his 21st PGA Tour title. And McIlroy could become the first in the game’s history to win a PGA Tour event the week before winning the U.S. Open.

He’s in position to do so.

“You feel like you’re right in the tournament from the start of the week, which is nice,” McIlroy said about getting off to a good start in a major. “I’m going into tomorrow with the mindset of let’s keep it going, rather than where is the cut line or whatever, if you don’t get off to a great start those thoughts start to creep in. OK, what do I need to just be here for the weekend? It’s certainly a different mindset when you get off to a good start.

“I’ve just got to keep it going.”