So much for Rory McIlroy being unable to grind. So much for the Northern Irishman fading away when the going gets tough.
Here at the 122nd US Open on Friday, he was locked in a battle with The Country Club, as well as a giddying mixture of the world’s best players, and stood up mightily to the task.
McIlroy is four-under, one behind Collin Morikawa and Joel Dahmen, and from the wretched, tournament-threatening spot he had found himself on the third, that 69 was an impressive feat indeed.
McIlroy, 33, hit his approach to the par four into the tall fescue on the right of a greenside bunker and with two swipes managed to move it roughly three yards.
He could barely see his ball and was playing his fifth shot. A triple-bogey seven was surely the most for which he could hope. But McIlroy chopped it out to 25 feet and rolled in the putt to limit the damage to a double-bogey six.
“That was the best double-bogey I’ve ever made,” he said.
There were none of the temper tantrums he had displayed in his opening 67, just a steely look of intent in his mission to win his fifth major after an eight-year gap.
McIlroy was fortunate in the sense that he was out in the easier conditions of the afternoon, when the tastes dipped markedly. Except his ball-striking, particularly off the tee, was nowhere its best.
It is a widely shared opinion that when he is misfiring the fire goes out in his belly. Not this time, negating bogeys on the sixth and 10th with birdies on the fifth, eighth, 12th, 14th and the 17th. And with Morikawa, the two-time major winner, shooting a 66, McIlroy showed resilience when he simply had to.
“I didn’t panic – I knew that there were holes coming up that would give me chances,” he said. “I think I need to go out with the mindset that I’m trying to win my first major. I’m playing my best golf in a long time.”