U.S. Open: Rory McIlroy once again leaps out to early lead in a major

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One of these days, Rory McIlroy is going to bust through that wall and win himself another major, right?

McIlroy walked off the course at The Country Club after a disappointing final-hole bogey — his only one of the day — that dropped him out of the solo lead and left him tied at the top at -3 on the day at the U.S. Open in Brookline, Massachusetts. He's riding a hot streak on the course and a wave of goodwill from golf's aficionados, and he's once again in position to get that incredibly elusive fifth major.

It's been nearly eight years since his last major victory, the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla, but he's spent most of that time within sight of the finish line. He's notched 15 top-10s, an average of almost two a year. Yes, he's back-doored his way into a bunch of those — only playing well when the pressure is off — but maybe, just maybe, he's figured something out in 2022.

Only eight players have finished ahead of him in majors this season; he finished solo second at the Masters and solo eighth at the PGA Championship. He attacked those two majors in two very different ways: waiting until Sunday to put on a furious charge in Augusta long after Scottie Scheffler had posted an uncatchable lead, and allowing a Thursday lead to slip away at Southern Hills. Now, he finds himself in a similar position.

"You'd take 67 around this golf course any day. Even though I'm standing up here slightly frustrated that I bogeyed the last, it's a great start to the tournament," McIlroy said after his round. "That's now two majors in a row that I've started well, and hopefully just keep going from here."

The benefit to a hot start is obvious: McIlroy doesn't need to spend the next three days making up ground.

"You feel like you're right in the tournament from the start of the week, which is nice. I'm going into [Friday] with the mindset of, 'Let's keep it going,' rather than, 'Where is the cut line or whatever?'" he said. "If you don't get off to a great start those thoughts start to creep in, 'OK, what do I need to just be here for the weekend?' It's certainly a different mindset when you get off to a good start."

McIlroy has become something of a guardian angel for the PGA Tour's legacy, thanks to his ardent defense of the game's history, but it's a role he doesn't particularly want to discuss now that the tournament has begun. He sidestepped two questions about his role as conscience of the Tour.

"I'm just being me. I'm living my life," he said. 'I'm doing what I think is right and trying to play the best golf that I possibly can. I wasn't asked to be put here. I wasn't trying to be in this position. I'm just being me."

So far, that's been more than enough. McIlroy shared the clubhouse lead with Callum Tarren and David Lingmerth, with more than a dozen players within two strokes as the morning wave came to a close.

It's a long way to Sunday afternoon, but McIlroy has once again started off heading in the right direction.

BROOKLINE, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 16: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates holing a birdie putt on the 18th hole during the first round of the 2022 U.S.Open Championship at The Country Club on June 16, 2022 in Brookline, Massachusetts. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates holing a putt on the 18th hole during the first round of the 2022 U.S.Open Championship at The Country Club on June 16, 2022 in Brookline, Massachusetts. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

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Contact Jay Busbee at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.

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