McIlroy: "I was just blown away by the wind yesterday"

McIlroy: "I was just blown away by the wind yesterday"
 Rory McIlroy plays a shot from the rough on the 12th hole during the first round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. on Thursday, June 14, 2018.  (Copyright USGA/J.D. Cuban)

Rory McIlroy plays a shot from the rough on the 12th hole during the first round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. on Thursday, June 14, 2018.  (Copyright USGA/J.D. Cuban)

Rory McIlroy confessed that he was taken by surprise and blown away by Thursday’s high winds in the US Open.

While he recovered from his disastrous opening 80 with a level par 70, the Co Down man struggled to come to terms with missing the cut in golf’s ultimate test for the third year running.

"The conditions took me by surprise yesterday and that is what really got me," McIlroy said of his opening round nightmare.

"Obviously the conditions were a lot better today and I played well — the way I have been playing in the conditions I've been practising in — and obviously we didn't get those conditions yesterday.

“It feels like the last three years I have only had three Majors to target and this one has been a write-off!”

He went out in 39 to soar to 14-over, three-putting the second and seventh before running up a double bogey at the ninth after tangling with the heavy rough.

And while he rallied at the finish, picking up birdies at the 11th, 13th, 16th and 17th in calming late afternoon conditions, the damage was already do.

 Rory McIlroy hits his tee shot on the 15th hole during the first round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. on Thursday, June 14, 2018.  (Copyright USGA/Chris Keane)

Rory McIlroy hits his tee shot on the 15th hole during the first round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. on Thursday, June 14, 2018.  (Copyright USGA/Chris Keane)

“It’s tough,” he said. "Every time you come into a US Open you know it's going to be tough and I felt like my game was all there.

"I showed glimpses of it on the back nine today, but I just wish I had handled the conditions a bit better yesterday.

“If I had parred the last three holes yesterday the difference between 78 and 80 would have felt huge. 

"There was a couple of holes yesterday and a couple today that I wish I could get back but that’s the way it is. 

"I felt my game was in good shape  - I felt the long game was there; there short game was there I just….I felt like I didn’t hit that bad shots yesterday - I just wasn’t prepared for those conditions."

He added: "I felt like my game was good coming in here. I think I was just blown away by the wind yesterday. That was the thing. I mean, I haven't played in wind like that for quite a long time.

"I just felt like I couldn't hit it far enough left or right to allow for the wind. It was a lot of crosswinds yesterday and I felt like -- holes like the third hole, I couldn't aim far enough left to keep it in the fairway, so just stuff like that.

"You get yourself out of position on this golf course, really you give yourself a bogey and move on.

"Today I hit 17 out of 18 greens. I did a lot of good stuff. Obviously the conditions were conducive for that. Yesterday I just wish I could have maybe just had one day to prepare for something like that. I feel like it would have been a different story."

 Dustin Johnson plays a bunker shot on the 17th hole during the second round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. on Friday, June 15, 2018.  (Copyright USGA/Jeff Haynes)

Dustin Johnson plays a bunker shot on the 17th hole during the second round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. on Friday, June 15, 2018.  (Copyright USGA/Jeff Haynes)

Whatever about his excuses, it's his fifth missed cut in the big ones since he captured his fourth major title at Valhalla nearly four years ago.

And while you can point it his five successive top-10 finishes in the Masters and back-to-back top-five finishes in The Open as indicators that there's little wrong, his high expectations make winning just one other tournament since he captured the 2016 Tour Championship look like under-achievement.

At the top of the leaderboard, a cool and calm Dustin Johnson shot an imperious 67 to lead by four strokes on four-under par from Scott Piercy (71) and Charley Hoffman (69) with Tommy Fleetwood (66), Henrik Stenson (70), Justin Rose (70), holder Brooks Koepka (66) and Ian Poulter (72) five behind one-over.

Poulter was just a shot behind Johnson on three-under with two holes to go.

But he butchered the eighth from the middle of the fairway, running up a triple bogey seven after thinning a bunker shot over the green into heavy rough before dropping another shot at the last.

With the cut projected to fall at eight-over par, it meant early exits too for Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry.

The 2010 champion was easily the happier of the two, chiselling out a level par 70 less than 24 hours after using his putter 42 times (36 officially) in an opening 79.

Lowry, on the other hand, went in the opposite direction as his putter remained ice-cold, adding a 79 to his opening 75 to finish hopelessly outside the cut line on 14-over. 

A 32-putt round would not usually give McDowell reason to be cheerful, but after the carnage of day one, he was pleased to remind himself that he really is playing well and hadn’t quite been “US Open-ed”.

"If I had gone out and shot another 75 or something today I would have left here very disappointed because my game is in good shape at the minute," McDowell said.

"So that was pleasing to do as well as I did, especially on that back nine. If it misses, it misses. Fine. At least I know I am still hitting it good.

"Thankfully I have managed to play decent tee to green and not get US Open-ed and walk away thinking I am not playing well."

 Tiger Woods plays a bunker shot on the 15th hole during the second round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. on Friday, June 15, 2018.  (Copyright USGA/Jeff Haynes)

Tiger Woods plays a bunker shot on the 15th hole during the second round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. on Friday, June 15, 2018.  (Copyright USGA/Jeff Haynes)

Out in two over after following a birdie at the third with a bogey at the treacherous seventh and a double-bogey at the ninth, where he three-putted from 20 yards, McDowell was thrilled to come home in two-under thanks to birdies from nine feet at both the 10th and 16th.

Lowry shot 75 on Thursday despite having three three-putts and a four-putt.

He was hoping to get out yesterday, make a few putts, shoot 70 and put himself in the mix.

But he three-putted the first for bogey instead, missed chances at the second and third,  couldn't save par when he bunkered his approach to the sixth and then saw another chance slip by at the seventh.

Paul McGinley used to joke on such days that "there's a goalkeeper in the hole and he's playing a blinder."

But after dropping another shot at the ninth to slip to eight over before coming home in 41 for his 79, Lowry was in no mood to be consoled.

"I wasn’t even hitting the goal, so the goalkeeper had nothing to deal with," he said. 

"Yesterday I done myself in playing so well and not shooting the score I needed to. 

"Today you want to get off to a decent start and I three-putted the first. I gathered myself after that, but if you hit it in the rough, you can’t make par." 

When someone suggested that "everybody" was having problems, Lowry was having none of it.

"Dustin is four under, so it wasn’t everybody," he said. "There were good scores out there today."

Then, cutting himself a little slack, he said: "It is not the end of the world. This course will beat you up, even on the best of days."

McIlroy wasn't alone in missing the cut.

 Jordan Spieth drops his club after his second shot on the 12th hole during the second round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. on Friday, June 15, 2018.  (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)

Jordan Spieth drops his club after his second shot on the 12th hole during the second round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. on Friday, June 15, 2018.  (Copyright USGA/Darren Carroll)

Jordan Spieth bogeyed his last two holes to miss out by one ater a 71, three-putting the 17th, while Tiger Woods finished alongside the Holywood star on 10-over..

"You just can't fake it at a Major Championship," Woos said after finishing with two birdies, adding a 72 to his opening 78.

"I've won a few Majors in my career, and in every single one, I've played well.

"I'm not very happy the way I played and the way I putted. You don't win major championships by kind of slapping all around the place and missing putts. You have to be on."

The 14-time major winner still thinks he’ll add to his haul in the grand slam events. 

“Absolutely,” he said.  “Have you seen the way I've been swinging?"

He may be right about his future in majors but he’s got some way to go to match the peerless Johnson on the evidence of yesterday’s rain-soaked morning session.

Despite all the moaning and the gnashing of teeth about the unfairness of the set-up — jungle rough, pins cut on tiny knobs, ice-rink greens — the leaderboard did not lie.

It showed the world number one leading by five strokes in the clubhouse from the European number one Tommy Fleetwood and Sweden's Henrik Stenson on four-under par.

 Tommy Fleetwood plays his shot at the ninth tee during the second round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. on Friday, June 15, 2018.  (Copyright USGA/Michael Cohen)

Tommy Fleetwood plays his shot at the ninth tee during the second round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. on Friday, June 15, 2018.  (Copyright USGA/Michael Cohen)

Looking as relaxed as a man out for a walk in the park, the laconic Johnson swaggered his way to a three-under 67 as Fleetwood missed just two greens and birdied three of his last five holes for a best of the week 66 to get back to one-over as Stenson shot a solid 70.

“He is the hottest player in the world right now,” McDowell said as Johnson combined power with great touch to cruise to an impressive 67.

While the Portrush man needed a five-wood to reach three of the par-fours yesterday "off okay drives", Johnson made light work of Shinnecock Hills in the cool, rainy conditions that prevailed in the morning.

"He's not doing anything great," Justin Thomas said carding a 70 to trail Johnson by eight strokes at halfway. "He's not doing anything bad. He's just hitting the fairways, keeping it in front of him, and he's playing D.J. golf."

For the record, "DJ golf" is easy to define.

"It's just really good and really consistent," Thomas said. "He drives the ball really well. His distance control and his iron flights are great. And he's a very, very underrated bunker player. 

"He had some great up and downs out of bunkers today, and he's putting the ball well. So pretty much has it all covered, I think."

Johnson missed six greens in regulation but dropped just one shot all day, picking up two birdies on each nine in another clinical demonstration of what it takes to survive in a US Open.

"It's a tough golf course, tough conditions, so it's very important to stay patient all day,"  Johnson said, pointing to his even temper as key.

"Why am I going to get upset about a bad shot I hit? I do it every day when I play. So you just got to go find it and hit it again," he said.

Fleetwood could only agree after his 66.

"I kind of like the grind and the patience game and kind of how tough it is," he said. 

"Whether I shoot 10 over or 66 today, I feel like, when the weather is bad, I kind of have that in me, the mental side."