Brian Keogh, Pebble Beach
IT'S not often that Rory McIlroy is happy to shoot a four over par 75 but such is the degree of difficulty presented by the US Open that the 21 year old Holywood star trooped back to his hotel room last night overlooking the first tee with hope in his heart.
It's not that McIlroy played well in just the fifth round of his US Open career. But he was pleased that he didn't let a bad run get him down and throw away his hopes of finishing high up the field or even challenging for the title with another of his Sunday charges.
Starting on the 10th, McIlroy parred his first four holes alongside eight time major winner Tom Watson and the 18 year old Japanese teenager Ryo Ishikawa, who shot a fine 70.
Then Pebble Beach - a dangerous animal when it's set up for a major - jumped up and bit him.
Having described the 14th as the most difficult par five he'd ever seen, McIlroy missed the green to the left and ran down a steep slope, under the bough of a tree.
He was dead and ended up taking a double bogey seven when his attempted cut up wedge struck a branch and came back to him
Watson had finished in exactly the same spot but had the experience to bump his recovery into the slope and limit the damage to a bogey.
The veteran would take 35 putts in a seven over 78 but McIlroy's problem was not his flat stick but his commitment.
Similar to any other dangerous animal, a gesture of fear is interpreted as a weakness and the results are never good.
McIlroy suddenly became defensive in his iron play and failed to commit to shot at the 16th and 17th, shoving them right.
He bogeyed both and dropped another shot at the short, par-four third before steading the ship with maturity.
A birdie at the par-five sixth limited the damage to 75 blows and McIlroy knows he is not out of the title race just yet.
"I'm not disappointed," he said. "I played poorly for a stretch by not committing to those shots and the round could have gotten away from me. I feel I dug in well and by no means am I out of this yet. It was tough but I felt I held it together quite well."
Graeme McDowell has a lot more experience than McIlroy at this level. But after leading the Irish quintet with a level par 71, the Ulster man admitted that it was tough to be patient.
"You come in here and recognise that par is a good score," McDowell said. "You’ve got to keep your head on and find the fairways and greens."
McIlroy learned a valuable major lesson on Thursday at Pebble Beach. It's that total commitment and endless patience are the only virtues worth having in a US Open test.
Knowing McIlroy, he won't make the same mistake twice.