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    U.S. Open: Rory McIlroy hopes look into past helps yield a title this weekend
    • June 17, 2023

    LOS ANGELES — As part of his preparation for this week’s U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy went on YouTube and looked back at his 2014 British Open win at Hoylake.

    As he watched McIlroy said he couldn’t believe many irons and 3-woods he hit off the tee in winning that tournament and it reminded him that part of his success has been his ability to play smart, knowing when to press and when to play safe and not be too aggressive when it’s not needed.

    “I’ve gone through periods over the last few years where I haven’t been patient enough and I’ve taken on too much,” McIlroy said after shooting a 3-under-par 67 in the second round on Friday. “But I think we’ve had some tests recently where you have to display patience, and hopefully those few experiences recently will help me this weekend.”

    McIlroy figures to need plenty of patience over the next two days if he hopes to be the one hoisting the trophy on Sunday. Sitting at 8 under through 36 holes, McIlroy finds himself in a great position, just two strokes behind Rickie Fowler. The Murrieta native backed up his record-setting first-round 62 with a 2-under 68 on Friday, leaving him alone atop the leaderboard at 10-under 130. Sitting between Fowler and McIlroy is Wyndham Clark who posted a 3-under 67 on Friday to leave him at 9 under. First-round co-leader Xander Schauffele posted an even-par 70, leaving him tied for third with McIlroy.

    Not to be overlooked was Dustin Johnson, the two-time major champion who made a quadruple-bogey 8 on his second hole with six bad shots, one penalty and a tap-in. The man with golf’s shortest memory rebounded quickly and still shot 70, leaving him four shots behind and very much in the mix going into the weekend.

    Through the first two days, McIlroy has done the majority of his damage on the front nine. McIlroy is 10 under on the front nine through 36 holes and 2 over on the back nine.

    “The front nine gives you some scoring opportunities and some wedges in your hand, a couple of par-5s, (driveable) sixth hole,” McIlroy said. “Yeah, the back nine is just a lot tougher. Those last three holes, 16, 17, 18, are playing tough even if it is pretty benign conditions out there. It feels like a sort of golf course where you try to make your score on the front and then try to hang on on the back.”

    This is the first major of the year in which McIlroy has played well enough over the first two days to give himself a legitimate chance to chase down the title over the final 36 holes. Among those at or near the top of the leaderboard, McIlroy has by far the strongest championship pedigree. This is the sixth time he has been 8 under or lower going into the weekend at a major, and he won three of those previous five. He believes that experience will be crucial for him over the coming days.

    “Every major championship and every venue is different. You just have to play what the course gives you,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I’m hitting the ball well. I’ve hit it well off the tee. I felt like coming into this week that was going to be a key for me – if I could put the ball in play. You can play from there and create some scoring opportunities. That’s really my game plan over the next couple days. Put the ball in play off the tee, and I think I’ll be just fine from there.”

    While McIlroy is trying to regain his major magic, the 29-year-old Clark is looking to break through for his first major. Earlier this year, the former University of Oregon standout broke through for his maiden PGA Tour title with a four-stroke victory over Schauffele and an elite field at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C. The win moved the Colorado native inside the top 60 of the Official World Golf Ranking and earned him a third U.S. Open start.

    Despite being a highly decorated amateur player, Clark hasn’t had great success since turning pro, so before the start of this season he made some significant changes that he believes have had a positive effect on his performance.

    His first change was to his equipment, where he made an adjustment to the lie angles of his clubs. He adjusted his irons 3 degrees upright from being relatively flat to more upright and since has struck the ball more consistently.

    But the biggest change was to take ownership of his golf swing, basically becoming his own swing coach with a little assistance from his caddie.

    “Myself and my caddie pretty much monitor my golf swing,” Clark said. “I don’t have a swing coach. That’s helped me own my swing and own my game. And so, when I’m out there, if it doesn’t feel right, I at least know what to do. I think in the past I was too reliant on someone telling me what to do that I didn’t own it. So, I would just say those are probably the three main differences.”

    The formula has worked well through the first two rounds this week, with Clark having posted rounds of 64-67, earning him a spot in the final group on Saturday. Part of his preparation was to play a practice round with longtime friend P.J. Fielding, who is a member at LACC.

    Fielding and Clark have played several pro-scratch tournaments together and when Clark comes to Los Angeles they hang out. Clark asked him if he would caddie for him during a practice round and he agreed to share his insights on the course.

    “He had some really good insights on putts and speeds of putts and also how the fairways when they get really firm, they do this and you’ve got to be here and lines off the tee,” Clark said. “That 18 holes was the equivalent of probably playing 27 to 36 because I was able to – he was telling me how certain putts – how they break, how this one is faster than this, this plays this way. If you’re here, you want to go – he was spot on. So, when I left that practice round on Tuesday, I felt like I could have come here and not even played a practice round. I felt like it was that in-depth.”

    Before each round, Clark gives himself three mini-goals to help keep himself a little more focused. He said his first goal was to enjoy playing at a beautiful golf course.

    “Second was to be cocky out there and third was remind myself of the first two,” Clark said. “Those were honestly my three goals, and I thought if I could do that and keep myself in the best mindset, that the golf would take care of itself.”

    He said the up and down he made on 14 helped him accomplish his goal of feeling cocky because it was a tough shot, and it allowed him to make birdie.

    “As the front nine, I started leaking a little bit of oil and was grinding to make pars and even made a bogey,” he said. “I kept reminding myself, hey, let’s get back to that cocky player, and I hit a great shot on six. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the putt. Then a really good up and down on seven and a birdie on eight, so I kind of brought that cockiness back.”

    It’s been nine years since McIlroy won his last major. It’s a statistic that no one needs to remind him of. The 34-year-old from Northern Ireland is more than aware of his ongoing title drought.

    “No one wants me to win another major more than I do,” McIlroy said. “The desire is obviously there. I’ve been trying and I’ve come close over the past nine years or whatever it is, and I keep coming back. I feel like I’ve showed a lot of resilience in my career, a lot of ups and downs, and I keep coming back. And whether that means that I get rewarded or I get punched in the gut or whatever it is, I’ll always keep coming back.”

    McIlroy didn’t envision such low scoring, including his opening 65, which he attributed to cloud cover, condensation and receptive greens.

    “The conditions now, it’s a little brighter, sunnier, a little bit of breeze. It’s got the potential to get a little firmer and faster over the next couple days, which will make the scores go up a little bit,” McIlroy said. “We’ll see what it’s like at the end of the week.

    “Yes, the course has played maybe a little easier than everyone thought it would, but wouldn’t be surprised on Saturday, Sunday to see it bite back,” McIlroy said. “It should be tough. It should be just as much of a mental grind out there as a physical one.”

    Harris English also shot 30 on the front nine to finish off his 66, leaving him at 7-under 133.

    “They can get them as firm and fast as they want and put those pins in some tough spots. It’s going to be fun,” English said. “The rough is still going to be penal. I think everybody is going to get the U.S. Open they’ve been wanting to see.”

    The low round Friday belonged to Min Woo Lee, whose 65 left him tied with Johnson at 6-under 134.

    Scottie Scheffler was among those five behind.

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    ​ Orange County Register