For only the second time since the golf rankings were created, the Nos. 1 and 2 players in the world have both missed the cut at the same major.
Donald was part of both dubious twosomes – representing the No. 1 seed both times when he bowed out early with Lee Westwood at the 2011 British Open and again this week with sidekick Rory McIlroy at the U.S. Open.
Donald leaves The Olympic Club with his No. 1 ranking in tact but his ego a little more frayed as he continues to seek the answer to his quest to win a major championship.
“Certainly that’s the one part of my golfing résumé – in the past few years especially – that I need to continually address and continually improve,” Donald said after posting a two-total of 11-over 151. “I want to win one more than any of you guys know. And obviously I’ll continue to try and do that.”
At least his wingman this week, McIlroy, doesn’t have the same vacancy on his ledger to fret about as he heads for the San Francisco airport. But the young man who torched Congressional Country Club to the tune of 16-under par last year to win the U.S. Open was once again in no mood to talk to a crowd of media after rounds of 77-73 left him 10-over and on his way home to Northern Ireland.
McIlroy did give a few comments to a U.S. Golf Association representative after a cool-down period.
“Obviously disappointed,” McIlroy said. “It wasn’t the way I wanted to play. I left myself with a lot of work to do after (Thursday’s) round, and to be honest overall I don’t feel like I played that badly for the last two days. It’s just such a demanding golf course and just punishes the slightest shot that’s off line or that’s maybe not the right distance or whatever. And that’s how I feel.”
Despite contending last week in Memphis, McIlroy is in what could be considered the worst slump of his young career missing the cut in four of his past five starts. Twice in his first full season as a teenager he missed three consecutive cuts on the European Tour, but this is his most sustained run of futility in big-time events with cuts at Sawgrass, Wentworth, Muirfield Village and Olympic.
“Yeah, it has been,” McIlroy said when asked if the last two months have been humbling. “I just realize that you just got to keep working hard and you got to … it doesn’t come easy to you all the time. It hasn’t been the greatest run over the last sort of six weeks or whatever it is. But as I said, I still see enough good stuff in the rounds that it does give me hope that it’s not very far away.”
There was little for either of them to take solace in this week and especially hard to chew on after their discouraging performances at the Masters where Donald finished 32nd and McIlroy 40th.
Donald, considered perhaps the best current putter in golf, needed 36 putts during a first-round 79 that put him is such dire straits that he needed something under par just to have a chance to stay the weekend.
“I think I missed nine putts inside 10 feet (Thursday) and just couldn’t get the feel for the greens, the reads, the speed,” he said. “And if I had putted a little bit better yesterday I could have ground out a score today and maybe been somewhere decently placed for the weekend. But it wasn’t to be and I’m trying to learn from it and come back stronger next time.”
Donald’s major finishes as the No. 1 golfer are T45 at Congressional, MC at Royal St. George’s, a high-water T8 in the PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club, T32 at Augusta and another MC this week.
He doesn’t believe it’s the majors that bring out the worst in his game recently, just bad timing.
“I think it was more a case of just not quite feeling too comfortable with the swing this week,” he said. “And that happens. I feel that not just major weeks but other weeks too. But unfortunately at major weeks that’s going to be magnified even more. And obviously that and coupled with me being a pretty solid putter usually and taking 36 putts yesterday, that’s always going to be tough for me.”
McIlroy, on the other hand, is developing a reputation for not being able to handle tough courses in the most difficult conditions. He complained about the weather at the previous two British Opens and this week the firm, fast and unforgiving set-up undid him.
“I’m not used to having to land balls before the edge of the greens to let them run on,” said the player who grew up playing links golf. “And it’s just something that you just have to adjust to in this tournament, and I wasn’t able to do that very well this week.”
Like Donald, McIlroy got off to a bad start with an opening 77 and wasn’t able to make up ground Friday morning and missed opportunities on his last three holes.
“I knew I needed a few birdies coming in today, so I just tried to attack as much as I could and go for pins,” he said. “And I had a good look for birdie on (No.) 6 and didn’t take it. And then I a look at eagle on 7 and made birdie there and had a good birdie look at 8. I thought that if I holed that putt, 8-over might have a chance to make the cut. But once that was missed, I knew that I probably wouldn’t make it through the weekend.”
McIlroy will try to gather himself and do better in the upcoming Irish Open at his favorite course, Royal Portrush.
“Just go back home and start playing some links golf and get ready for those couple weeks,” he said.
Donald will take three weeks off and play next trying to defend his title at the Scottish Open the week before the next major at Royal Lytham.
“Put the clubs away for a week probably or two days at least,” he said. “Just to take stock of what I need to do and then back to the grind.”