Rory McIlroy did something that he’s done only 7 other times since 2014

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy hits a tee shot on Thursday during the first round of the U.S. Open.

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Rory McIlroy needed a 30-yard pitch-in from the nasty stuff and an 8-foot birdie putt in near darkness, but when his first round at the U.S. Open was over on Thursday, he had done something he had managed to do only seven other times in the past seven years. And failed to do 17 times. 

McIlroy, with a 70, shot under par. By a stroke — par is 71. But it was under par. 

As he walked off the 18th at Torrey Pines at about 8:30 p.m. local time, he pumped his right fist toward the few remaining fans who stuck around. As they say, you can’t win a golf tournament in the first round. But you can lose it. And ever since his last major victory, at the 2014 PGA Championship, he essentially has.   

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Including McIlroy’s round on Thursday, he has now played 25 first rounds at major championships over the past seven years and finished under par eight times. His score relative to par during those rounds is a whopping 34-over par. 

From there, McIlroy usually plays like the McIlroy who has won four major championships. In his 58 other rounds over this stretch, he’s 52-under par. Only 17 times over these 83 total rounds has he shot higher than he did after the first round. It is a true case of too low, too late.  

McIlroy was short, for him, when asked to describe his Round 1 woes on Wednesday. (The man even answered two questions about the sweatshirt he was wearing.) Though, to be fair, he’s asked about it routinely. 

“Probably just putting a little too much pressure on myself, playing too carefully, being a little tentative. I think that sort of sums it up,” he said. 

On Thursday, McIlroy birdied the 440-yard par-4 1st. And the 453-yard par-4 7th with the pitch-in to make the turn at two under. He was nine holes away from finishing below par. Then things got wobbly — he bogeyed 10, birdied 12, then bogeyed 13 and 16 to sit at even. 

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Then came the closing birdie. McIlroy shot under par. By a stroke. But it was under par. 

“The birdie is awesome,” he said after the round. “I mean, that putt was pretty, I was sort of like, I think it’s straight, I’ll hit it straight and we’ll see. But, yeah, it was nice to get in.”

A look at Rory McIlroy’s major championship first rounds since his victory at the 2014 PGA Championship:

2021 U.S. Open at par-71 Torrey Pines: one-under 70 
2021 PGA Championship at par-72 Kiawah Island: three-over 75 (72, 74, 72, finishes T49)
2021 Masters at par-72 Augusta National: four-over 76 (74, cut)
Total: six over 

2020 Masters at par-72 Augusta National: three-over 75 (66, 67, 69, finishes T5) 
2020 U.S. Open at par-70 Winged Foot: three-under 67 (76, 68, 75, finishes T8) 
2020 PGA Championship at par-70 Harding Park: even-par 70 (69, 71, 68, finishes T33) 
Total: even par 

2019 Open Championship at par-71 Royal Portrush: eight-over 79 (65, cut) 
2019 U.S. Open at par-71 Pebble Beach: three-under 68 (69, 70, 72, finishes T9) 
2019 PGA Championship at par-70 Bethpage Black: two-over 72 (71, 69, 69, finishes T8) 
2019 Masters at par-72 Augusta National: one-over 73 (71, 71, 68, finishes T21) 
Total: eight over 

2018 PGA Championship at par-70 Bellerive: even-par 70 (67, 71, 70 finishes T50) 
2018 Open Championship at par-71 Carnoustie: two-under 69 (69, 70, 70, finishes T2) 
2018 U.S. Open at par-70 Shinnecock: 10-over 80 (70, cut) 
2018 par-72 Masters: three-under 69 (71, 65, 74, finishes T5) 
Total: five over 

2017 PGA Championship at par-71 Quail Hollow: one-over 72 (72, 73, 68, finishes T22) 
2017 Open Championship at par-70 Royal Birkdale: one-over 71 (68, 69, 67, finishes T4) –
2017 U.S. Open at par-72 Erin Hills: six-over 78 (71, cut) 
2017 Masters at par-72 Augusta National: even-par 72 (73, 71, 69, finishes T7) 
Total: 8 over 

2016 PGA Championship at par-70 Baltusrol: four-over 74 (69, cut) 
2016 Open Championship at par-71 Royal Troon: two-under 69 (71, 73, 67 finishes T5) 
2016 U.S. Open at par-70 Oakmont: seven-over 77 (71, cut) 
2016 Masters at par-72 Augusta National: two-under 70 (71, 77, 71 finishes T10) 
Total: seven over 

2015 PGA Championship at par-72 Whistling Straits: one-under 71 (71, 68, 69, finishes 17th) 
2015 Open Championship at par-72 St. Andrews: did not play 
2015 U.S. Open at par-70 Chambers Bay: two-over 72 (72, 70, 66, finishes T9) 
2015 Masters at par-72 Augusta National: one-under 71 (71, 68, 66, finishes 4th)  
Total: even par 

2014 PGA Championship at par-71 Valhalla: five-under 66 (67, 67, 68, wins) 

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Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor