What meltdown? McIlroy coasts to U.S. Open victory

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What meltdown? McIlroy coasts to U.S. Open victory

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Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates after sinking his final putt and winning the 111th U.S. Open by eight strokes over Jason Day with a U.S. Open record 268 at Congressional Country Club on Sunday, in Bethesda, Md. [AFP/YONHAP]


BETHESDA, Md. - Rory McIlroy buried the memory of his Masters meltdown the same way he buried the competition at the U.S. Open, with a breathtaking performance filled with the promise of more majors to come.

Four days of flawless golf at Congressional ended Sunday afternoon when McIlroy polished off a 2-under 69 to shatter U.S. Open records that simply defy logic at the major known as the toughest test in golf.

He finished at 16-under par.

The last 10 U.S. Open champions combined were 14 under.

The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland walked off the 18th green and into the arms of his father, Gerry, who worked three jobs so his only son could pursue his passion. Not even he could have imagined a day like this.

“Happy Father’s Day,’’ McIlroy told him.

His father had a Northern Ireland flag draped over his green shirt.

“Unbelievable,’’ he said. “With what’s happened over the last couple of months, and to come back and do this, it’s fantastic. After the Masters, he worked so hard. I really can’t put it into words. And on Father’s Day, it’s fantastic. You couldn’t beat it.’’

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It was the second straight U.S. Open title for the tiny country of Northern Ireland, and defending champion Graeme McDowell walked back across the bridge to the 18th green to embrace the new winner.

“You’re a legend,’’ McDowell told him.

Not many would dispute that now, not after a week like this.

McIlroy finished at 268 to break the U.S. Open record by four shots. That record was a 12-under par by Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach, and McIlroy matched it in the second round.

“I couldn’t ask for much more, and I’m just so happy to be holding this trophy,’’ McIlroy said. “I know how good Tiger was in 2000 to win by 15 in Pebble. I was trying to go out there and emulate him in some way. I played great for four days, and I couldn’t be happier.’’

When he arrived for his press conference, he took a picture of the silver U.S. Open trophy on the table and posted it on Twitter with two references that said it all: Winning. Bounceback.

“Going back to Augusta this year, I felt like that was a great opportunity to get my first major. It didn’t quite work out,’’ McIlroy said. “But to come back straight away at the U.S. Open and win, that is nice. You can always call yourself a major champion, and hopefully after this, I can call myself a multiple major champion.’’

Since the Masters began in 1934, McIlroy is the second youngest major champion next to Woods.

His freckled-face bursting with joy when he tapped in for par, McIlroy won by eight shots over Jason Day, who closed with a 68 and moved to No. 9 in the world. It was the second straight runner-up in a major for Day, only this time he didn’t have a chance.

No one did this week.

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Korean Yang Yong-eun reacts to his putt on the 15th green during the final round of the U.S. Open in Bethesda, Md., Sunday. Yang finished third at 6-under. [AFP/YONHAP]

Not even an eight-member strong contingent from Korea, including Yang Yong-eun, who tied for third at 6 under, 10 strokes behind McIlroy, and Choi Kyung-ju, who didn’t even make the cut.

Yang began the day in second place, eight behind McIlroy, but shot an even-par round of 71 to drop into a three-way tie for third, along with Kevin Chappell, Robert Garrigus and Lee Westwood.

Yang began his day with five straight pars, then had his first birdie on sixth. Consecutive birdies on Nos. 9 and 10 took Yang to nine under. But he put his second shot into the water on the par-4 11th and had a bogey to fall to 8 under.

Yang, 39, struggled with his tee shots on the back nine and committed another bogey on No. 15. With the bogey on 18, Yang failed to join McIlroy and Garrigus as the only players to shoot all four rounds under par.

Yang, the 2009 PGA Championship winner, remains the only Asian with a major golf title.

McIlroy won his first.

He opened with a three-shot lead, stretched it to six shots after 36 holes and eight shots going into the final round. No one got any closer over the final 18 holes.

Tributes poured in throughout the steamy afternoon outside the nation’s capital - first from the players he beat, then from Jack Nicklaus and ultimately from Woods.

“What a performance from start to finish,’’ Woods said in a statement. “Enjoy the win. Well done.’’

Nicklaus invited McIlroy to lunch last year in Florida and talked to him about how to close out tournaments. He apparently wasn’t listening when he took a four-shot lead into the final round of the Masters, only to implode on the back nine and shoot 80.

“I didn’t think it was going to happen again, and it hasn’t,’’ Nicklaus said by telephone to NBC Sports. “I think this kid’s going to have a great career. I don’t think there’s any question about it. He’s got all the components. He’s got a lot of people rooting for him. He’s a nice kid. He’s got a pleasant personality.

“He’s humble when he needs to be humble, and he’s confident when he needs to be confident.’’

McIlroy now goes to No. 4 in the world, and to think, if he had avoided the collapse at Augusta National, he could be headed to Royal St. George’s for the British Open with the first two legs of the Grand Slam in his pocket.

“Nothing this kid does ever surprises me,’’ McDowell said. “He’s the best player I’ve ever seen. I didn’t have a chance to play with Tiger when he was in his real pomp, and this guy is the best I’ve ever seen. Simple as that. He’s great for golf. He’s a breath of fresh air for the game, and perhaps we’re ready for golf’s next superstar.

“And maybe,’’ he said, “Rory is it.’’

McIlroy’s impressive performance had something to do with Congressional, which was softened by rain and cloud cover. The USGA did nothing to try to protect par, moving tees forward to tempt players to take on some risk. The result was a whopping 32 rounds under par on Sunday. The previous record of 18 final rounds under par was at Baltusrol in New Jersey in 1993.

But there is no denying that one guy played far better than anyone else - eight shots better. McIlroy became the first player since Woods in 2002 at Bethpage Black to go wire-to-wire in the U.S. Open without ties, and his best might still be ahead of him.

“I think he’s still growing, and it’s just scary to think about it,’’ said Yang.

Amid the celebration of McIlroy came growing concern about the state of American golf. For the first time since the Masters began in 1934, Americans have gone five majors without winning. They were on the verge of being shut out of the top three for the fourth time in the last five majors until Yang made bogey on the last hole for a 71.

“It says, I think, that the Americans struggle a little bit,’’ PGA champion Martin Kaymer said. The game also is getting much younger.

McIlroy became the fourth straight player in his 20s to win a major, the longest such streak since 1897. And there may be more to come from the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland.


AP, Yonhap

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]
‘북아일랜드 촌닭’ 매킬로이 용됐다

두 살에 40야드, 아홉 살에 홀인원, 스물둘에 US오픈
양용은 1위와 10타 차 3위

경기 후 친구처럼 포옹하고 있는 매킬로이 부자. 아버지 게리는 아들 뒷바라지를 위해 두 개의 직업을 가지고 밤낮으로 일했다. [베데스다 AFP=연합뉴스]
우승을 확정하고 나서 로리 매킬로이는 머리가 하얗게 센 아버지와 뜨겁게 포옹했다. 13년 전 1998년 US여자오픈에서 박세리가 아버지 박준철씨에게 안겼을 때 한국인들이 그랬듯 북아일랜드 사람들에겐 가슴 찡한 순간이었으리라.

 이날은 미국의 아버지 날(Father’s Day)이었다. 아버지 게리 매킬로이는 럭비 클럽에서 일을 했다. 바를 정리하고 라커룸을 청소했다. 주니어 시절부터 해외로 경기를 나갈 정도로 실력이 뛰어난 아들의 경비를 마련하기 위해 아버지는 밤에도 바에서 일을 해야 했다. 어머니는 공장에서 야간 작업조로 일했다. 직업 세 개를 가진 양친이 없는 날 밤에는 삼촌이 매킬로이를 돌보곤 했다.

 매킬로이의 할아버지 지미는 타이타닉호를 건조한 북아일랜드 벨파스트의 조선소에서 일했다. 거대한 크레인을 고쳤다. 북아일랜드는 슬픈 역사를 간직한 나라다. 면적은 강원도와 전라남도 중간 크기다. 인구는 160만 명으로 강원도 정도다. 기후는 고약하고 땅은 척박하다. 19세기 감자 기근으로 인구가 절반으로 줄기도 했다. 매킬로이가 자란 벨파스트에는 20세기 말까지도 아일랜드와 북아일랜드의 독립 분쟁으로 테러가 적지 않았다.

 할아버지는 노동자였지만 골프를 좋아했다. 북아일랜드는 가난한 나라였지만 노동자들도 골프를 즐길 수 있는 천혜의 조건을 갖췄다. 바닷가는 자연 그대로 링크스 골프장이다. 절경도 많아 세계 최고 링크스는 스코틀랜드보다 아일랜드에 더 많다고 한다. 로열 포트러시와 로열 카운티 다운 골프장은 세계 최고 골프장을 다툰다. 로열 포트러시는 그레이트 브리튼 섬 외에서 유일하게 디 오픈이 열린 곳이다. 날씨가 궂어 잡초처럼 강인한 골퍼들이 나온다. 대런 클락을 비롯, 지난해 US오픈 우승자 그레이엄 맥도웰이 북아일랜드 출신이다.

 매킬로이는 타이거 우즈가 그랬듯 요람에 누운 채 아버지의 스윙을 지켜봤다. 요람에서 나올 만큼 힘이 붙자 가장 먼저 티잉 그라운드로 기어갔다. 아버지는 플라스틱 클럽을 건네줬다. 매킬로이는 두 살 때 드라이버로 40야드를 날리고 아홉 살 때 홀인원을 했다. 대런 클락과 파드리그 해링턴에게 배우기도 했다.

 US오픈에서 로리 매킬로이는 너무나 완벽했기 때문에 앞으로 그가 어떤 일을 할지 관심이 크다. 비교 대상은 메이저대회 최다승(18승)을 거둔 잭 니클라우스와 오랫동안 골프 황제로 군림한 타이거 우즈다. 매킬로이는 22세 46일이 되던 날 첫 메이저대회 우승을 차지했다. 1997년 마스터스에서 우승한 우즈보다 5개월여 늦지만 니클라우스보다는 3개월여 먼저 첫 메이저 우승을 했다.

 매킬로이의 유러피언 투어와 PGA 투어 우승은 각각 1승에 불과하다. 주요 투어에서 활동한 지 4년째인 것을 감안하면 적다. 퍼트가 약점이었다. 그러나 이번 대회에서 이를 극복한 것으로 보인다. 마스터스에서 우승을 놓친 뒤 퍼트의 달인으로 알려진 데이브 스탁튼에게 배우기 시작했는데 매킬로이는 거침없이 퍼트했고 좋은 성적을 냈다.

 롱게임은 최고로 꼽힌다. 그는 460야드가 넘는 파 4홀에서 웨지로 두 번째 샷을 하곤 했다. 330야드는 쉽게 쳤으며 정확도는 우즈와 비교할 수 없이 정교했다. 이번 대회 그의 그린적중률(86%)은 역대 최고 기록이다. 러프에서도 그의 임팩트는 매우 정확했고 딱딱한 그린에도 볼을 세울 수 있었다. 공을 힘껏 치지만 우즈처럼 부상을 겪을 위험은 적어 보인다. 잭 니클라우스는 “매킬로이는 하체로 스윙을 하기 때문에 강하지만 부드럽다”고 말했다.

 현 세계 랭킹 1위인 루크 도널드(잉글랜드)는 “내가 본 선수 중 재능이 가장 뛰어난 선수”라고 말했다. 필 미켈슨의 캐디도 “최고의 라운드를 이틀 연속 할 수 있는 선수”라며 우즈보다 뛰어나다는 뉘앙스의 말을 했다. 매킬로이는 “우즈는 뛰어난 선수지만 겨뤄보고 싶다”고 말했다.

 그러나 쇼트게임과 카리스마, 경기를 끝내는 능력은 아직 지켜봐야 한다. 이번 대회는 타수 차이가 워낙 컸기 때문에 그의 마음 속에서 역전패의 충격이 완전히 사라졌다고 단정할 수는 없다.  

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