MAMARONECK, N.Y. — Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy thought he was positioned to spring a final-round surprise, but after a four-putt double bogey at the first hole Sunday, McIlroy struggled to a 75 that left him tied for eighth at 6 over par, a full dozen shots behind the winning 6-under 274 posted by Bryson DeChambeau, who hit only 23 of 56 fairways in the tournament.
McIlroy is a long hitter, but he was left stunned by how DeChambeau, the longest hitter in golf, overpowered Winged Foot despite his errant ways with the driver.
"I don’t know what to say because it’s just the complete opposite of what you think a U.S. Open champion does," McIlroy said. "Look, he’s found a way to do it. Whether that’s good or bad for the game, I don’t know, but it’s just not the way I saw this golf course being played or this tournament being played. It’s kind of hard to really wrap my head around it."
Asked what he thought when DeChambeau muscled up this season and changed his swing to something approaching that of a long-driving contestant, McIlroy said: "I thought I can see it for week in and week out on PGA Tour setups that are a little more benign. I played with him (in June) at Colonial, but I sort of said, ‘OK, wait until he gets to a proper golf course. He’ll have to rein it back in.’ This is as proper as they come, and look what’s happened. He’s got full belief in what he’s doing, and it’s pretty impressive."
Despite the tough conditions for everyone but DeChambeau, Winged Foot and the USGA won plaudits for the setup at a course that habitually has left the top pros holding their head in their hands and whining.
"It’s an unbelievable golf course," said world No. 3 Justin Thomas, whose first-round 65 was a record low in a U.S. Open at Winged Foot before he faltered to finish tied for eighth at 6 over. "It’s for sure my favorite U.S. Open venue I’ve played. I’m pretty disappointed in how I finished the week. I hit it just terribly in the second and third rounds. It’s a shame."
In the past, the USGA has been criticized for unfair setups in its premier event, but that wasn’t the case this week.
"It’s fair," Thomas said. "If you play well, you can score and make birdies, but if you don’t, it’s brutal. It was not overly firm. It was not overly fast. The USGA did a great job setting it up. Very easily could have had 15 over par win this week if they wanted."
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson came in as the overwhelming favorite, but he failed to take advantage of the first-round scoring conditions and finished with his second even-par 70 of the week on Sunday. His 5-over 285 would have tied Geoff Ogilvy’s winning score at Winged Foot in 2006 but was good only for a sixth-place tie this time.
"It’s a good week, tough golf course," Johnson said. "I struggled on the greens a little bit. I gave myself enough chances, but yeah, I just didn’t putt well enough."