U.S. Open 2023: Padraig Harrington laments criticism Rory McIlroy will take for failing to 'get across the line'
Rory McIlroy reacts to a missed birdie putt on the 10th green.
LOS ANGELES — As another major championship was slipping away from Rory McIlroy on Sunday afternoon, Padraig Harrington winced at the thought of what his fellow Irishman would likely encounter in the aftermath.
“You’re going to hang him if he doesn’t win,” Harrington said figuratively of the potential reaction by the media. The 51-year-old had just completed a three-over-par 73 at Los Angeles Country Club to finish a respectable two-over 282, good for T-27 in the 123rd U.S. Open.
“There’s nobody watching this golf tournament that doesn’t think this is not Rory’s to win. He has put himself out there and the pressure will be on him [down the stretch]. No doubt about it. Now, there’s massive pressure on [Wyndham] Clark because he’s not used to it. It’s a two-horse race, and I’m sure everybody expects Rory to get across the line.”
Harrington, who defends his U.S. Senior Open title this week at Sentry World in Stevens Point, Wis., was speaking as McIlroy was playing the 13th hole at LACC North. But not 20 minutes later, McIlroy bogeyed the par-5 14th hole, while Clark birdied it to turn a one-stroke lead into a three-stroke advantage. In the end, Clark bogeyed the 15th and 16th holes, but pars on 17 and 18 gave him a closing 70 that allowed him to beat McIlroy by one shot after Rory posted a 70 of his own.
McIlroy has gone nearly nine years since he won the last of his four major titles at the 2014 PGA Championship. Last year, a closing 64 at Augusta National Golf Club lifted McIlroy to a second-place finish behind Scottie Scheffler in the Masters, but then he had excellent chances in the year’s final three majors, none better than at the Open Championship at St. Andrews, where he held a share of the 54-hole lead. Cam Smith blazed past him, however, the final day with a 64 while McIlroy was stuck in neutral, unable to get key putts to drop as he ended up third.
A replay of that round unfolded on Sunday at LACC, with McIlroy, the No. 3 player in the world and the 2011 U.S. Open winner, making birdie on the par-5 first hole to tie third-round co-leaders Clark and Rickie Fowler at 10 under. But again his putter betrayed him as he gave himself numerous scoring chances only to come up empty.
Harrington, a three-time major champion, said whatever would unfold the rest of the day, McIlroy would have to come to terms with another tough defeat despite being in contention. Winning requires dealing with the more gut-wrenching setbacks.
“Yes, he has put his neck on the line again for sure. But that’s what you’ve got to do if you want to win these things,” Harrington said. “You don’t win ‘em from shooting 65 to finish third on a Sunday. You win by being close to the lead and grinding out a 70 or 69 or 68 or whatever it takes. That’s where he’s at and that’s what he has to do.”