SAN DIEGO — Dissecting the losers (non-winners?) of major championships and the respective ramifications for each of them is sometimes as compelling as analyzing what the victory did for the winner.
In the case of Sunday’s final round of the 121st U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, this question must be asked when it relates to two of the players who came tantalizingly close to winning but ultimately fell short of winner Jon Rahm: When does a thing become a thing?
For two of the players who had one hand on the U.S. Open trophy as they played the back nine, that time is NOW.
Of all the players who entered the final round in contention, Rory McIlroy needed to win this U.S. Open more than anyone else. You can make the argument that, based on his talent and where he stood on the leaderboard to begin the day, McIlroy should have won.
You can also make that argument for Louis Oosthuizen, who appeared to be cruising to victory on the back nine with the lead.
It’s been seven years since McIlroy won his last major championship and the sound of that clock ticking is growing louder and it cannot help but be maddening to him.
McIlroy’s best is better than anyone else’s best in the game. And to be 0-for-his-last-25 in major championships is as curious as it is alarming.
Whether McIlroy wants to admit to it or not, this drought has become a thing.
For Oosthuizen, Sunday’s runner-up finish to Rahm was his remarkable seventh career second-place finish at a major championship since he won his only major, the 2010 British Open.
Whether Oosthuizen wants to admit it or not, this run of runner-up finishes also is becoming a thing.
After it was over, McIlroy put such a positive spin on his week that you couldn’t help but think he’s doing all he can to convince himself that he battled but came up short and that not winning this U.S. Open isn’t such a big deal.
Yet it is.
“Overall, it’s been a positive week,’’ McIlroy said. “I gave myself a great chance today. Even through 10 holes, I was right in the thick of things. It was really two holes that basically stopped the sort of run at the title.’’
McIlroy was 4-under par and right on Oosthuizen’s tail and he bogeyed No. 11 and doubled 12. End of championship hopes.
“Once I made those little mistakes on 11 and 12, I felt like I was just chasing a little bit, and then ultimately couldn’t really get anything done from there,’’ he said. “But overall, it’s been a good week. I put up a good fight. Take those two holes out, the rest of the week was really good.’’
Can’t take those two holes out, though. Those two holes, in fact, ultimately defined McIlroy’s week more than the other 70 he played.
McIlroy began the day 3-under par and two shots behind Russell Henley and Mackenzie Hughes, two players not experienced holding a lead in a major, and Oosthuizen. He was in perfect position to come from behind and strike. But, in the end, he couldn’t muster his best golf when it counted.
Oosthuizen, like McIlroy one of the most affable players in the game, also attempted to put a positive spin on the week, though it’s clear he’s sick of finishing second.
“I didn’t win it,’’ Oosthuizen said. “I’m second again. Look, it’s frustrating. It’s disappointing. I played good today, but I didn’t play good enough. I played good; just fell a little short again.’’
Oosthuizen doomed his chances when, after Rahm had finished 6-under and one shot ahead of him, he pulled a tee shot into the hazard on the left side of the 17th fairway and took bogey to fall two shots back.
“It was Jon who played a great round of golf — 4-under today on that golf course is a really good score,” Oosthuizen said. “I feel like I had my shots, I went for it and that’s what you have to do to win majors. Sometimes it goes your way, and other times it doesn’t.’’
It’s a thing.