Rory: ‘Close as I’ve ever been’ to 5th major win

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PINEHURST, N.C. — Rory McIlroy isn’t afraid to say the quiet part out loud.

“Obviously,” McIlroy said Tuesday in his pre-tournament press conference, “getting my hands on a fifth major has taken quite a while.”

It has been over 10 years since McIlroy has hoisted a major championship trophy, which means every major he participates in features a nearly identical preamble of questions about whether the four-time major winner can finally break the drought.

“I’m really proud of my body of work over the past 15 years and everything that I have achieved, whether it be season-long titles or individual tournaments or majors,” McIlroy said. “I’m more confident than ever that I’m right there, that I’m as close as I’ve ever been.”

Over the last 10 majors, McIlroy has seven top-10 finishes, two runner-ups and only one missed cut. Perhaps even more impressive is how McIlroy shifted his fate at U.S. Opens in particular. After missing the cut in three straight U.S. Opens from 2016 to 2018, the two-time winner has had five straight top-10 finishes in the event, including a runner-up last year in Los Angeles.

Despite not winning a major, McIlroy’s game has been sharpened and his approach has also evolved. What he says he would have called “boring” golf in his younger years has now become his go-to stylistic choice at U.S. Opens.

“I would say embracing the difficult conditions, embracing the style of golf needed to contend at a U.S. Open, embracing patience,” McIlroy said. “Explosiveness isn’t going to win a U.S. Open. It’s more methodically building your score over the course of four days and being okay with that. Honestly, it’s just more of a reframing of a mindset than anything else.”

Experience – and coming up just short at majors – has put McIlroy in a position where he has no choice but to lean on the fact that his game is ready to break through in the biggest stages.

‘I’ve played enough golf tournaments over my career that once it’s done, it’s done. You leave it in the past. You try to learn from whatever happened that given week,” McIlroy said. “The good thing about golf in particular is there’s always the next week, always an opportunity to get back up on the horse and try again.”

That perspective is also what prevents McIlroy from putting any kind of limitations or expectations on the rest of his career. When asked if he thinks of a number of wins or majors he wants to get to before he hangs it up, McIlroy balked at the notion, adding only that “being the most successful European in the game” is something that is within his reach.

“I think the only thing about trying to pick a number is that you’re setting yourself up for failure or disappointment,” McIlroy said. “There’s always going to be that tinge of what could have been. I don’t want to do that to myself. If someone would have told me at 20 years old I’d be sitting here at 35 and this is the career I’ve had, I would not have believed them and I would have been ecstatic.”

Instead of pondering what ifs, McIlroy chooses to look ahead to not just this week, where embracing yet another tough golf course could put the third-ranked player in the world in position to contend, but also to the next 10 years and think about what is possible if he continues to play at a high level.

“Whatever those numbers are, whatever the totals add up to,” he said. “I’ll accept that and feel like I’ve done pretty well for a little boy from Northern Ireland that dreamed of playing golf for a living one day.”

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