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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

A great Rory McIlroy is a great thing for the game of golf 

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot from the second tee during the second round of the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on Friday in Pebble Beach, Calif. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Christian Petersen

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif.—By any measure, Rory McIlroy at 30 still is a good golfer. He has won two tournaments this year, including one last week. He currently is ranked No. 3 in the world and is highly respected by his peers and fans worldwide. All good. Very, very good.

That would be wonderful for just about anyone else, except that McIlroy always had seemed destined to be great. A win at the U.S. Open here this week, or in any other major, would be just great for him, and really, for the game of golf.

His total of four career major titles is terrific and Hall of Fame-worthy. But it has been five years since he has won one. Another big silver trophy or claret jug or green jacket would remind all of us just what kind of epic golfer McIlroy seems born to be.

He acknowledged earlier this week that, “I’m a golf geek.” He craves old stories and relishes the history, much of which he got to indulge when he attended the U.S. Open champions gathering Tuesday. McIlroy earned his invitation by routing the field at Congressional in 2011.

Another U.S. Open would be fitting, given that the Open always is scheduled to end on Father’s Day. The McIlroy family story used to be well known: Dad Gerry was a scratch golfer who taught his 2-year-old son the finer elements of grip and swing, then took extra jobs (as did his wife) to pay for young Rory’s travels to tournaments all over the globe.

It would be neat on another level, what with Gerry having been Rory’s partner here for the annual AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

But time and place are not important. Pretty much everyone involved with the sport would get a kick out of seeing McIlroy reclaim his place on a modern golf Mount Rushmore. “`Liberating,’ 'satisfying,’ I mean, there's a lot of different words you could use to describe what it would feel like,” he said the other day.

In describing McIlroy, the word most of us used to think of was “inevitable.” He looked as if he could win majors in bunches. Except it just is not easy. He had an equipment change, a management change, an engagement that he ended awkwardly, a marriage and a new life. On top of that, there has been a slew of strong, talented golfers who are slightly younger than he is and just as hungry (or more).

Positives for him include the fact he believes his game now is as healthy as it ever has been. He has spoken this week about feeling “free” on the course.

He put himself into position by winning the RBC Canadian Open on Sunday, having put pedal to metal on the weekend and finishing at 22 under. Competing rather than practicing did him a world of good.

“You're playing golf. Yeah, I could have come here last week and played this golf course to death, but it wouldn't have done me any good,” he said. “I don't think there's any substitute for getting a card and a pencil in your hand and going out and trying to shoot a score under tournament conditions.”

Also, there was the matter of challenging himself to get off to a good start here — citing the wisdom of Johnny Miller at the Tuesday dinner, saying that nobody wins the Open after stumbling out of the gate — and then doing it. When scores were low Thursday, McIlroy shot 3 under, which was good enough to keep him afloat.

McIlroy had his ups and downs Friday, reaching 6 under with a birdie on the par-4 11th, then making a bogey and double bogey and following with two consecutive birdies. He shot 2-under-par 69 and finished at 5 under, well within contending range.

 Golf in general is much more fun when McIlroy is at or near the top. In fact, you could say it is great.Golf in general is much more fun when McIlroy is at or near the top. In fact, you could say it is great.

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