I’ll never forget Rory McIlroy’s quote following Los Angeles Country Club last season. He had a real shot at winning his first major in nearly 10 years, battling it out with a relative unknown to the general sports public in Wyndham Clark, and he came up short.

“I would go through 100 Sundays like this to get my hands on another major championship.”

One hundred Sundays like the one he’d just had that day in Los Angeles, when Rory had a chance to win and didn’t. But Pinehurst was not one of those Sundays. This was crueler. This was a failure of the mind meeting the body. This was what every golfer in the world has felt at some point in their lives, trying to break a certain score for the first time or trying to win a match in the club championship when the nerves have ramped up and the hands are starting to shake.

Rory won this U.S. Open for 14 holes. The putter that had deserted him at LACC was proving to be his grandest weapon. He was making monumental birdie putts and pouring in lengthy par saves to catch and pass Bryson DeChambeau, seemingly in total control.

A lot of us in the golf media have wondered over the last few years what Rory would have to do to win another major championship. The easy answer was for Rory to blow out the field like he had earlier in his career. Rory won two major championships by a combined 16 shots, and it felt like maybe he’d catch fire with the putter and hit his driver and irons like he typically does late in the season and it would be a rout. The conclusion would be written before Rory got to the back nine on Sunday.

He had to take a tougher path at Pinehurst. Rory began his Sunday trailing one of the best players in the world by three shots, and would need a great round of golf and some miscues from the man with the lead to have a chance. Most of us hoped he’d simply have a chance on the back nine considering the 54-hole lead for DeChambeau and the way Bryson has golfed his ball in major championships this season.

This wasn’t Wyndham Clark or Rickie Fowler or an inexperienced Viktor Hovland. This was a guy that could throw a similar speed of fastball to Rory, with a short game that has improved to the point where it has become a real weapon amongst the best in the world.

We all know what happened to Rory late in that round. Much like Saturday, Rory struggled to close, but this time it was different. This time, the putts that didn’t go in were must-makes by professional golf’s standards. You can’t miss three-footers with three holes to play on Sunday at the U.S. Open and expect to win.

So about that “100 Sundays” quote: would Rory go through 100 Sundays like this one? Because this makes 2022 at St. Andrews and last year at LACC feel like hiccups. He got beat at St. Andrews. He couldn’t buy a putt in Los Angeles. This time, he met all the necessary checkmarks right up until he couldn’t manage to close it out.

I wonder if Rory is willing to go through something like this again. I wonder if Rory is willing to have his heart absolutely ripped out on the biggest stage in his sport knowing the narrative that follows whenever he can’t close something like this out.

I will never forget that image of Rory leaning against the scoring table, staring at a television broadcasting nothing but inevitability. Bryson hit one of the great shots in the last decade of major championship golf to close it out, and all Rory could do was lean against a table knowing that these images will follow him like the one of him leaning against his driver at Augusta National in 2011.

The hope I do have comes from another emotional moment we all experienced with Rory, back in 2021. It was the Whistling Straits Ryder Cup, where the Americans stomped the Europeans. Rory lost three of his four matches that week and simply couldn’t hold in how he was feeling after his Sunday singles victory over Xander Schauffele.

He talked about how much the Ryder Cup meant to him, and how disappointed he was in his play that week. You could see how down he was about his performance and leadership, and in the back of your mind, you felt like that might drive him to perform better at the next one. Rory, of course, did just that. He played flawless golf in Rome, winning four full points and leading the Europeans to another huge victory at home.

Maybe, like in Wisconsin, this is rock bottom for Rory on an individual level. Maybe the only place to go from here is up. Maybe Rory would go through 100 final rounds like this one to snag another major championship, knowing how painful this feels. But at some point, people stop wanting to put their feet in the fire. At some point, they’re exhausted by the pressure and the moment and the level of play that’s required to contend at this level.

I hope that’s not the case going forward for McIlroy, but this one feels different. How much more pain are you willing to go through until you don’t want to feel that anymore?

For more coverage of the U.S. Open, visit the Fried Egg Golf U.S. Open hub.