Bethesda, Md. Sometimes, history comes and goes so fast you miss it.
But when you have a 22-year-old kid with curly hair tucked under his cap and a smile that lights up a room, turning a U.S. Open golf course into a pitch and putt, you are ready to be a witness.
You could see him in the distance, 175 yards away, standing with a club in his hands, waiting for the other guys to hit first because their drives hadn’t been as long as his. One of the other guys was Phil Mickelson, already a legend. The other was Dustin Johnson, who has a chance to become one if his brain ever gets synchronized with his swing.
The massive crowds held back from the fairways and greens by ropes were swarming to the 17th hole as if somebody were giving away free putters. They knew. Rory McIlroy was beating up a golf course designed to be the perpetrator, not the victim.
McIlroy had just birdied No. 16, and were he to make another birdie, he would become the first person ever to go 13 under par at any point in any U.S. Open.
This is the 111th.
McIlroy hit it just over a trap, and right into that desirable area. It stopped 15 feet away, and after Mickelson and Johnson each hit nice lag putts to set up their pars, McIlroy stood over his putt.
McIlroy rolled it dead center. There it was, 111 years of the best players in the world, attempting to navigate the terrors of a U.S. Open course, and this was the first time anybody had done it that well.
Of course, life and the U.S. Open go on. McIlroy had one more hole, hit his second shot into the water and finished with a six. That meant the 13-under stayed on the board for perhaps 20 minutes. He still managed to set the record for best 36-hole score at 65-66 — 131.
But the little slip on No. 18, and his history, meant that all the doubts remain about his ability to keep this going.
He has led majors before, most recently going into the final round of this year’s Masters. On Sunday, he shot 80. He started last year’s British Open at St. Andrews with a 63 and quickly followed with an 80.
“I know, probably more than anyone else,” he said, “what can happen.”
He also said he has worked on it, even come up with a new approach.
“I did a piece after Augusta,” he said, “where I said I needed to be a little more cocky, a little more arrogant on the golf course, and think a little more about myself ... just on the golf course.”
After last year’s U.S. Open, where McIlroy missed the cut and his Northern Ireland buddy, Graeme McDowell, won, he was quoted extensively about how happy he was for McDowell. Same thing when he faced up to the media after his implosion at Augusta, when he said he was happy for winner Charl Schwartzel.
“Yeah, I’d like to be happy for myself,” he said Friday.
McIlroy will start today with a six-shot lead, tied for best ever.
McIlroy has already made history of one kind. Now he needs to avoid the other, the kind that would label him forever a poster boy for sports train wrecks.