When you think of favorites to win the 2017 U.S. Open, big names like Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and even this year’s Masters champion Sergio Garcia may come to mind. But there is one name you should not, and now simply cannot, leave out: Rory McIlroy.
Take Brandel Chamblee’s word for it:
“This is the first major he’s played in since 2012 when his putting is not a question,” Chamblee said on Golf Channel’s Live From the U.S. Open show Tuesday evening. “Rory McIlroy for the first time in his career is a good putter.”
McIlroy and the green have had a rocky relationship in the past. The most notable shortcomings came during the “fifth major” in 2015. Entering the final day of the Players Championship that year, he was within four strokes of the lead.
The Northern Ireland native is known for his curly hair, thick accent, and long accurate drives, which is what he excelled in on Sunday all those years ago. What hurt him, is what Chamblee considers McIlroy’s strength.
He had eight birdie putts for the taking, and despite some being make-able for the then-world No. 1, he left far too many on the table. The closest were a two-putt on the par-five ninth hole and a narrow miss on the par-three eighth.
These misses have certainly left the mind of McIlroy, as well as Chamblee.
“There are no question marks with Rory McIlroy this week. It’s spot on,” he said. “This is probably the best fit for him since the Open Championship, in 2015 at St. Andrews, which he missed [with an ankle injury].”
Entering the weekend, McIlroy ranks 42nd in strokes gained putting on Tour, and his putting is now better from four to eight feet and outside 25 feet than that of Jordan Spieth, though McIlroy’s sample size is small because of injury, Chamblee continued.
As the second best player in the world, what does McIlroy have to prove? That his accuracy off the tee is still the best in the game, and that his health won’t get in the way of his performance this weekend. He also must show that his club change and the newest addition to his bag, the Spider putter, are working for him.
But as a player with one of the best, and farthest drives, landing in the fairway isn’t a concern for McIlroy, according to Chamblee.
“He’s eliminated the left miss, which has always been his bugaboo,” he said. “This golf course gives you a little more width off the tee … There’s only one player better tee to green on the PGA Tour, and that player’s not as experienced as Rory is.”
“The fact that he’s putting so well, and the look of this golf course, and the fact that a U.S. Open doesn’t often give you four looks at par fives — guess who leads the pga tour in par five scoring average? Rory McIlroy — everything points to Rory McIlroy,” Chamblee said.
McIlroy has not won a major since 2014, where he took home both The Open Championship and the PGA Championship. Since then he has endured a club change, a back injury sustained from a previous rib injury, and some close calls to regain his status as the world’s best golfer. This year, with all of that behind him, don’t count him out. Chamblee sure isn’t.