When Rory McIlroy won his fourth major at the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla, the golf world prepared itself for the next iteration of Tiger Woods. Surely the floodgates had opened, with the question being not when Rory would win another, but how many he’d win in his career. A decade later, Rory remains stuck on four major championship titles, a reality that golf fans in 2014 wouldn’t have believed. McIlroy’s drought has been a period of time characterized by consistently strong performances in majors, with Sunday’s second-place finish his 21st top 10 over that span in golf’s biggest events. But despite that stat, he’s only had a handful of legitimate chances down the stretch on Sundays.

At the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie, McIlroy grabbed a share of the lead after an eagle on the 14th hole on Sunday. From there he failed to make another birdie, finishing in a four-way tie for second. Teeing off in the final pairing with Patrick Reed, McIlroy had a strong opportunity to win the 2018 Masters, but never found the rhythm to threaten the lead late into the day. Cameron Smith stole the show at the 2022 Open at St. Andrews, firing a back nine thirty to clear McIlroy by two shots and earn his first major. Perhaps McIlroy’s best chance at winning a major in the past decade came at the 2023 U.S. Open at LACC (North). He started one shot from the lead, birdied the opener, and made par after par to remain at the top of the board throughout the day. Ultimately, he hit a poor wedge shot on the par-5 14th, made bogey, and came up one shot shy of Wyndham Clark. It was his best chance of winning a major championship over a decade characterized by steady performances, a perceived failure to close, and heartbreak.

All of those opportunities pale in comparison to what transpired on Sunday at Pinehurst No. 2. Teeing off in the penultimate pairing three shots behind Bryson DeChambeau, McIlroy opened with a 20-foot birdie putt and looked poised for a real run at the trophy. His second shot into the par-5 fifth came up just feet short of ideal, before rolling back and off the left side of the green into a poor lie in the native area. He’d go on to make bogey.

Then Rory did what he’s failed to do on so many occasions in past major championships: he locked in, steadied the ship, and started posting birdies. He birdied the 9th, 10th, 12th, and 13th, ascending the leaderboard while DeChambeau faltered.

With five holes to play, Rory McIlroy stood on the 14th tee with a two-shot lead. An excusable bogey on the difficult 15th followed a gutsy par save on the 14th, but it’s the 16th hole that will surely stay with Rory for the rest of his career. With the tournament in his jaws, McIlroy three-putted from 25 feet, pulling a simple 2.5-foot par putt that nearly missed the hole entirely.

Shortly thereafter, he missed a 4-foot par putt on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open, and he lost the tournament by one stroke.

Rory McIlroy is the most scrutinized golfer in the game. With each major championship, golf fans question if this will be the one where he ends the decade-long drought. As McIlroy walked up to the 16th green, this time did actually feel different. The tournament was in the palm of his hand. And he lost it. There’s no other way to frame the 2024 U.S. Open. Rory missed two short putts on the last three holes to lose the United States Open, the most devastating loss of his major championship career.

Where Rory goes from here remains to be seen. The “it’s only a matter of time before he wins again” takes will continue to fly, espoused by the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and even Bryson DeChambeau, who said in his championship press conference that Rory “will win multiple more major championships. There’s no doubt.” But plenty of things in life that are only a matter of time never materialize. There is doubt, which is why the close calls can lead to agony. But this close call isn’t just agonizing for McIlroy. It’s downright haunting. And when his career is all said and done, it’s hard to imagine that there will be another tournament that keeps him up at night more than the 2024 U.S. Open.

This piece originally appeared in the Fried Egg Golf newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For more coverage of the U.S. Open, visit our U.S. Open hub.