There’s a Tiger Woods-like performance being put on at the U.S. Open, while the game’s biggest draw hobbles at home on crutches.
Rory McIlroy’s record-setting play through two rounds at Congressional Country Club has drawn comparisons to Woods’s romp 11 years ago.
“It’s like Tiger at Pebble Beach when he pulled away,” Mike Davis, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, told reporters inside the clubhouse of the course in Bethesda, Maryland. “I think it’s fantastic.”
In 2000, Woods won his first of three U.S. Open titles by a record 15 shots at California’s Pebble Beach Golf Links. His 12-under-par final score stands as the lowest winning total in 110 U.S. Opens.
McIlroy, at 11 under after 36 holes, has a chance to eclipse Woods’s mark this weekend.
“I’m feeling good, feeling very good,” McIlroy said in a news conference. “It’s funny to me, you know, it feels quite simple. I’m hitting fairways. I’m hitting greens. I’m holing my fair share of putts. That’s basically it.”
What has seemed simple to McIlroy has drawn high praise from others.
“You just can’t fathom it,” said Robert Garrigus, who played two groups in front of McIlroy today and sits at 2 under. “It’s crazy to see. I played well, but I can’t do anything about what he’s doing. I can’t go break his knee.”
Garrigus was among those now only left to wonder if McIlroy will be able to hold on for the victory. Unlike Woods during his prime, McIlroy has a history of surrendering leads in golf’s major tournaments. He blew a four-shot lead over the final round of the Masters Tournament in April with an 8-over-par 80 on the final 18 holes.
As devastating as that was for McIlroy, he congratulated winner Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, drawing support from golf fans and other players. While it might be nice to be well-liked, McIlroy said he’s ready for some of the praise to be heaped on him.
“I’d like to be happy for myself,” he said. “It would be nice to get a little piece of the action. These records, they’re nice, but they don’t really mean anything until the end of the tournament.”
McIlroy’s total of 131 eclipsed the 36-hole scoring mark of 132 set by Ricky Barnes two years ago at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course in New York.
No player before today had scored better than 9 under through the first two rounds of the U.S. Open. McIlroy reached 10 under when he holed out a wedge shot for an eagle on the eighth hole, his 26th hole of the tournament.
Although McIlroy is putting on a record-setting performance, the on-course support for him still lags behind what Woods received in his prime, players said. Paired with five-time U.S. Open runner-up Phil Mickelson through the first two rounds, McIlroy wasn’t even the most popular player in his group.
“The roars for Phil were louder,” Garrigus said. “Just because he’s Phil. Everybody loves him. To see what Rory is doing now is remarkable, but if Phil makes a run on Saturday or Sunday, this place is going to go nuts.”
Mickelson, the winner of five major tournaments, is 1 over after rounds of 74 and 69.
With McIlroy so far ahead, his competitors have been forced to adopt a new strategy for the final two rounds.
‘Playing for Second’
“I personally won’t look at the leaderboard all weekend because there’s no point. We’re all playing for second place,” said Brandt Snedeker, who is at 2 under. “He’s probably got more talent in his pinky than I have in my whole body.”
When Woods began to dominate golf in the early 2000s, tournament organizers lengthened holes, narrowed fairways and made putting surfaces faster. The changes became known as “Tiger-proofing” golf courses.
After watching what McIlroy has done over the first two days at one of golf’s most difficult courses, Davis of the USGA was asked if could foresee similar changes being made for McIlroy in years to come.
“We’re not quite there,” Davis said. “Yet.”