‘The Stoic’ Rory McIlroy sits atop the US Open leaderboard and is focused on playing major-winning golf above all else.

PINEHURST, N.C. – Rory McIlroy is not at Pinehurst’s No. 2 social. That has become so over the first three days of this week and crystallized further on Thursday evening when McIlroy opened the 2024 US Open with a bogey-free 65. That’s good enough for him to co-lead the event with Ryder Cup rival Patrick Cantlay after 18 holes of play.

McIlroy’s personal life has recently become more public than he would have liked as it was announced just before the PGA Championship that he was divorcing. It was announced this week at the US Open that he and his wife have reconciled and they will remain together.

Whether for this reason or another, he has been unusually militant during his career at Pinehurst about anything and everything while trying to capture the fifth major championship of his career and first in nearly 10 years. The usually talkative and jovial Ulsterman wasn’t annoying or harsh, but he was certainly shorter and less willing to divulge information regarding his game or otherwise.

The score in the first round is something else that is also abnormal for McIlroy: opening a major with a bogey-free round and the lead (He has only led twice after the first round of a major since 2014).

McIlroy’s results when playing bogey-free golf early in major tournaments have been excellent.

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The word that kept coming to mind as McIlroy raced around Pinehurst next to the man everyone was chasing, Scottie Scheffler, was Logical. He hit reasonable shots, didn’t take any too aggressive lines and played in the middle of the green, hitting 15 of 18 in regulation.

“I think I’m very conservative with my strategy and my game,” he said of his plan.

If he continues to keep his head this way, McIlroy is certain to win a long-awaited fifth major championship on Sunday night. His touch around the greens and his lateness were equal, until the end of his round when he walked in a birdie putt so early on the 18th that it was only fair he laughed out loud.

“I thought I left it short,” he said. “That’s why I gave it up. Full disclosure. It sounded good, though.”

It looked good. So did everything else. During Wednesday’s practice round with Martin Kaymer, who won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst when it was last held here in 2014, McIlroy at times passed him by 40 or 50 yards. He whined on the ball but also kept himself almost completely out of trouble. He hit 11 of 14 lanes on Thursday as well. This is always a good formula.

McIlroy hits golf shots, too. Towering irons when the moment calls for it, but they also have spin chips, bumps and runs, and that low-hook, rolling drive that has “Major Championship Golf” written all over it.

Rory’s game is sharp, but that’s rarely been the question with him in the majors. Despite having five consecutive top-10 finishes at the US Open, the obstacles he has faced over the past 10 years at Grand Slams have seemingly been more mental and emotional.

McIlroy is the rare reflective athlete who expends a lot of energy in many areas outside of his game. He gives too much of himself, too much time, to too many different people.

It’s uncertain whether his current personal issues were the impetus for him withdrawing and turning inward a bit this week, but what’s undeniable is that he hasn’t put a lot of time, thought or effort into everything that isn’t golf. That’s his right, of course, but perhaps this is the best way for him to invest his energy.

It’s also… different from his standard actions.

Even after watching his post-round press conference after filming one of the best Grand Tours of his career, one can tell McIlroy is acting more reserved. It gives less. That’s actually at least part of the plan this week, he said Thursday.

“I think, with my demeanor, I’m just trying to be very level-headed,” McIlroy explained. “I just try to be as balanced as possible. I really feel like that’s something that has served me well at the US Open over the last few years. I just try to be 100 percent committed to my shots and 100 percent committed to attitude.”

Rory always seems to be at odds with himself when it comes to this arena. The juxtaposition goes like this: He’s not a natural killer. The gruff sports star who struts like the baddest man on the property is not actually McIlroy, the person. It goes against his humanity and his desire to please everyone in his orbit.

But perhaps the idea of ​​a benevolent and always generous McIlroy conflicts with him being a major champion at this stage of his life.

Because of this constant war, the burden of being Rory McIlroy is more complicated than it seems, and heavier than other stars. That’s why Rory is beloved, of course, but it might also be why he’s gone 0-for-36 in the majors since his last win in 2014.

McIlroy is a superstar who embodies humanity. There is no one like him.

He insisted Thursday that he is no different as a person than he was this time last year when he was on the verge of winning the US Open at Los Angeles Country Club. That may be true, but it is clearly He carries himself differently. The reason behind this is a mystery, but the result – at least through 18 holes – is undeniable.

With his US Open and severe dehydration on the line, McIlroy turned inward, became composed and focused on himself. For someone who has given so much in so many ways over such a long period of time, this is understandable… and admirable.

This may be the formula he needs to break what appears to be the longest streak in golf.

Rick Gayman, Patrick MacDonald and Greg Ducharme recap the opening round of the 2024 US Open at Pinehurst No. 2. Follow and listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcast And Spotify.

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