The big four have had to settle for a bit-part role this week as once again The Open proved that reputations mean little in links golf.
It has left them desperate to make amends and happy that they will not have long to wait for the next major. Thanks to an Olympics-enforced reshuffle of the schedule, the fourth and final jewel follows hard on the heels of Royal Troon, with the USPGA teeing off a week on Thursday.
The fact that none of them – Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy – managed to trouble the leaders at the business end of this event should stir up some concerns but, with the weather proving the go-to excuse, they all maintain that they are well placed.
The only man among them to have sampled Open success, McIlroy was also the one who finished furthest up the leaderboard. His four-under par 67 yesterday took him to four under for the championship.
“I’ve missed a few short putts this week,” he said. “I just need to do a bit of work and be a bit more confident over them. But tee to green was good, and I can only be positive going into Baltusrol. I’m driving the ball great. I think that’s a big thing. The PGAs are usually if you can drive the ball well, you’ll do well. I’ve had success in that tournament before. I’ll go there feeling pretty good about myself.
“I want to win. I want to play well. I think you guys are more desperate for it to happen than I am. I’m happy with where my game’s at.
“All I can do is keep plugging away. I feel like it’s definitely heading in the right direction. I’m staying positive about it. I feel like good things are happening and, if I can drive the ball like I did this week and sharpen up a few bits and pieces, I think I’ll be right there.”
That proved a common refrain. Day, who was even par for the day and one over for the tournament, has extra reason to feel good as he heads into the next major. “The PGA is the first time I’ve defended a major, so I’ll try and soak up what that entails,” he said. “But, once Thursday comes around, you have to go out there and play good.”
He said that all the players had tried to do that at Troon but had been hampered by the elements. “The weather can have a big impact,” he added. “Myself, Rory and Jordan were maybe on the bad side [of the draw]. It may be unlucky, but you’ve got to embrace it.”
“I’m very pleased with the way we finished in the half of the field that we had Thursday, Friday,” said Spieth, who rallied on the final day with a three-under 68 to move up to +2 overall. “We’re trying to look at positives. I don’t think we’re far off from being able to tee off on Sunday afternoon at a major.
“All the parts seem to be coming together, whether it shows after a 30th-place finish or not.”
Dustin Johnson ended the week two shots back from McIlroy, carding a score of one under on the final day.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to some warm weather, playing on some fast greens. It will be nice, he said.”