Golf Extras
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McIlroy's divergent path to U.S. Open glory

Kevin Currie, Golf Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Just over two months ago, Rory McIlroy hopped a flight to Malaysia after coughing up the lead in the final round of the Masters.

Among others on board that flight was newly crowned Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and Chubby Chandler, who is the agent for both golfers. McIlroy tweeted a picture of he and Schwartzel mid-flight.

Both were players grinning ear-to-ear.

Maybe we should have known then that McIlroy was already over the final-round 80 he posted at the Masters. In line to be one of the youngest Masters winners ever, McIlroy settled for a share of 15th place.

"I felt like I got over the Masters pretty quickly," McIlroy said Sunday after winning the U.S. Open. "I kept telling you guys that, and I don't know if you believed me or not. But here you go."

What did he do in Malaysia?

The 22-year-old opened with rounds of 69 and 64 to take the lead after two rounds of the Malaysian Open. He went just three-under par over the final two rounds, but the third-place finish surely helped erase the memories from one week earlier.

"At this moment, I'm pretty disappointed, but it was a good week," McIlroy said after that final round in Malaysia. "To shoot the scores that I did considering the traveling is a pretty good effort."

Maybe we should have known then that something like what he did this weekend was possible.

In the days leading up to the U.S. Open, McIlroy spent time at two places that couldn't be much different.

He played a few practice rounds at Pine Valley Golf Club, which is one of the top courses in the nation.

McIlroy also spent a couple of days in Haiti as a UNICEF ambassador.

"I thought I had perspective before going to Haiti, and then actually seeing it, it just gives you a completely different view on the world and the game that you play," McIlroy said on Tuesday. "It just makes you feel so lucky that I'm able just to sit here and drink a bottle of water, just the normal things that everyone does that you take for granted."

So that's what it takes to clear your mind before a dominating performance?

First, rub elbows with the rich and famous at a world-class golf course. Then, go to country still trying to rebuild from a devastating earthquake.

McIlroy saw the good and bad the world offers within a short time span, and it helped clear his head heading into Congressional.

With a clear mind and a solid game, McIlroy blasted the 155 other golfers that teed it up at the U.S. Open.

He tied or broke 12 records en route to becoming the second-youngest U.S. Open winner ever.

Could this be the new method of preparation for a major? Doubtful, but one thing is for sure, it worked perfectly for McIlroy.

HIS DAY WILL COME

Lost in the midst of the Rory McIlroy show at the U.S. Open was the fact that Jason Day posted his second straight runner-up finish in a major.

While McIlroy was collapsing at Augusta National, Day carded a four-under 68 to share second place, two strokes behind winner Schwartzel.

At Congressional, McIlroy ran away from the field, winning by eight strokes.

As early as Friday, people were joking about who was going to win the 'B' Flight, that consisted of the other 155 players in the field.

It might not be the prize Day was looking for, but he went nine-under par over the final two rounds to finish alone in second place at Congressional.

"Obviously it's my first U.S. Open. Very excited that I finished second. I'm not going to go home and cry because I got whooped," Day said on Sunday.

"But Rory, you can't beat a guy that's gone out and played as well as he has this week. He just didn't miss a beat, played phenomenal golf, and I played really, really solid golf over the weekend, which I really wanted to do, and I'm very, very happy to finish second, which is nice."

Day, who the Byron Nelson Championship last year, posted the third-best score in U.S. Open history, but still lost by a touchdown, and a two-point conversion.

He is in his fourth season on the PGA Tour, but has only qualified for the last four majors. His first major, the 2010 British Open, was his worst.

The 23-year-old Australian tied for 60th at St. Andrews last year. He followed that up with a tie for 10th at the PGA Championship.

Day has posted a pair of runner-up finishes at this year's two majors.

With that kind of track record in his first four major championship starts, it's just a matter of time before Day wins one of the big four.

MINI-TIDBITS

- Rory McIlroy put his name on 12 records this week at the U.S. Open, but the one stat that stands out most to me is this - one. That is the number of three-putts he had for the entire week, and it came on the 71st hole of the championship.

- Patrick Cantlay and Russell Henley are two names you'll need to remember. They were the top two amateurs at the U.S. Open. Cantlay finished second at the NCAA's, while winning Freshman of the Year and National Player of the Year honors. Henley won on the Nationwide Tour earlier this year. Dustin Johnson and Hunter Mahan might be the top 20-somethings among American golfers, but these two might grab that mantle in the coming years.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Kevin Currie at kcurrie@sportsnetwork.com.

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