BETHESDA, Md. – There was a birdie, birdie, birdie finish, an explosive way to come home in 32 strokes, shoot 70 and get through 36 holes at 2 over.
Pretty good, given the U.S. Open stage, yet when Edoardo Molinari was asked how it felt after the second round at Congressional Country Club, he laughed.
“What, to be 15 behind?”
For the record, Molinari wasn’t 15 behind. Rory McIlroy had only moments earlier made a double-bogey at the 18th, so the Italian had a mere 13-stroke gap to make up. He laughed, shook his head, and said the crowd had been treated “to some unbelievable golf.”
• • •
Want a FREE 4-week digital subscription to Golfweek? Click here!
• • •
A truer understatement has never been offered, because McIlroy indeed had set Congressional Country Club on fire. Backing up an opening 65 with a 66, McIlroy established a string of U.S. Open records – low 36-hole score (131), fewest holes to reach double-digits under par (26), only player to reach 13 under.
The fact that McIlroy went from 13 under at the 17th green to 11 under at the 18th thanks to that sloppy finish hardly put a dent in the praise colleagues tossed his way.
“He deserves to win this major,” Molinari said. “He’s probably the best young player in the last how many years? I’d like to see him win by 20.”
There were times when it appeared as if he would, too. Had he holed an eagle putt at the 16th and made par at the 18th, McIlroy realistically could have finished at 14 under and settled into the clubhouse lead by a whopping 12 shots over a quartet of names – Robert Garrigus, Sergio Garcia, Zach Johnson and Brandt Snedeker – who must have felt like asking USGA Executive Director Mike Davis if two courses had been set up.
One for McIlroy and one for the other 155 players.
At first, Davis laughed, but then he pondered what has taken place for two days, 155 players struggling at nearly every hole, McIlroy playing like it’s the Bob Hope Classic.
“Crazy, isn’t it?” Steve Stricker said. “To be 11 under, it’s pretty incredible.”
Paired with Retief Goosen and David Toms one group ahead of McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, Stricker said he constantly heard roars behind them and it didn’t take long to figure out that it was the young man from Northern Ireland, and not the popular lefthander, who was igniting the noise.
Snedeker (a second straight 70) never heard the roars, given that he was on the other side of Congressional, but he didn’t have to. He only had to look at the score to realize something special is unfolding, and Snedeker isn’t the least bit shocked by it, either.
“I think everybody would agree he’s probably got more talent in his pinky than I have in my whole body,” Snedeker said. “He is unbelievably talented.”
Like Molinari, Snedeker doesn’t have any pretenses about staging a comeback. With a true understanding of what it takes to play at this level, they appear genuinely happy for McIlroy.
“If he keeps playing the way he’s playing, we’re all playing for second place,” Snedeker said. “It’s great to see him do that, especially on the heels of the Masters (disappointment). As a fan of golf I’d love to see him win this week. As a competitor I’d love to see myself win. We’ll see how it goes.”
Also picking up on the Masters theme (McIlroy led at 54 holes, melted a bit on the front, led by one at the 10th tee, then collapsed on the back and plunged to T-15), Garrigus said, “It’s cool to see (what he’s doing) after the Masters. At 21, I couldn’t be out here. I know how hard it is to play out here and to do what he’s doing is phenomenal.”
Molinari believes McIlroy will use that Masters experience to his benefit. The Italian said that Augusta National is set up on Sundays so that those playing well can make birdies and eagles and apply pressure. “And that’s what happened,” Molinari said. “Guys went out and scored early and I think Rory played a little defensive.”
Such an occurrence would be unlikely to take place at Congressional, Molinari said, because it wouldn’t be set up to be conducive to low scoring.
Garcia doesn’t necessarily disagree, but while he personally offers praise to McIlroy (“I think it would be great for him to win; he’s a wonderful player, a very nice kid.”), the Spaniard seemed to want to keep his distance.
“I have bigger worries than Rory McIlroy,” he said.
But the truth is, as it stands now there’s nothing but second place to claim.