Rory McIlroy tied for US Open lead; credits attitude shift

Rory McIlroy shares the lead at the US Open at Pinehurst No. 2
Rory McIlroy - 2024 US Open
Rory McIlroy - 2024 US Open / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages

“I really don't think I embraced U.S. Open setups probably 10 years into my U.S. Open career,” Rory McIlroy admitted after shooting a 5-under par first round at Pinehurst No. 2 to put him in a tie for the lead with Patrick Cantlay. “Played my first one in '09, and I think I really changed my mindset around them in 2019.”

While it is hard to believe when watching what happens at US Opens, McIlroy said he’s actually started enjoying the style of golf required to play them successfully. He believes he’s become more of a “student of the game” in recent years, and thinks that has led to his change in attitude toward the really challenging set-ups found at US Opens. 

Rory McIlroy also enjoys the different architecture.

“It sort of brings me back to links golf when I was a kid,” McIlroy noted a little bit. “The greens are a bit more sort of slopey and there's a bit more movement on them. But there's options. You can chip it. You can putt it. I'd love if we played more golf courses like this.”

He may be the only one.

“The golf course is a little different to what it was last year, but still the same strategy, same mindset,” he explained. “Just trying to hit it into the middle of greens and giving yourself chances every single time, taking your medicine if you do hit it into trouble.”

Last year in the US Open, McIlroy lost to Wyndham Clark by one shot at Los Angeles Country Club on a course that can best be described as quirky.

“I had a lot of really good numbers today where I could just go ahead and hit full shots,” McIlroy said about his round. “Whenever you're hitting full shots into these greens, the ball is going to stop a little quicker than if you have to take something off or hit little three-quarter shots.”

Luck, he said, definitely has something to do with it. On the beginning of the back nine, he had a stretch of six holes where he hit to 20 feet and two-putted, which in US Opens is good.

“I actually had a good two-putt on 15,” he added.  “I could have got a little impatient, but I felt like my patience was rewarded there with birdies on two of the last three holes. It was really nice to finish like that.”

In round one, he hit 11 of 14 fairways and 15 greens in regulation. His driving average was 328.3 yards, and that put him 12th in the field. Significantly, he had just 27 putts, an average of 1.79 putts per green when the field was at 1.86.

He’s looking forward to playing in the morning and hopes there will be a little more moisture in the course then so that he has a chance to add to his birdie total.

“Certainly the major championships that I've won or the ones that I've played well at, I've always seemed to get off to a good start, and it's nice to get off to another one,” he said.

McIlroy is playing in what the PGA Tour calls a marquee group with Masters and Players champ Scottie Scheffler and PGA champ Xander Schauffele.

"I enjoy playing in these groups," he said. "When you've been out here for, whatever it is, 16 or 17 years, sometimes you need a little extra to get the juices going, and being in a group like that definitely helps."

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