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Rory McIlroy ‘building toward something’ as he keeps focus on game at U.S. Open

LOS ANGELES – Rory McIlroy arrived at Los Angeles Country Club late Monday afternoon, eschewing a practice round for some range time and then a nine-hole stroll carrying just a putter and a few wedges.

That was intentional.

Sure, he said, much of the intricacies of the design can be found on and around the greens, so extra attention should be paid there. But also: “It’s been a long couple of weeks.”

That could have been taken any number of ways.

He has played each of the past two weeks, putting himself deep into contention at both the Memorial and RBC Canadian Open before Sunday fades. (More on that later.) But McIlroy was also dealing with the fallout from the shocking news last week that the PGA Tour – which he had fiercely defended for more than a year – had entered into an agreement with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, the details of which are still murky, even to him, as a player director on the Tour policy board.

Full-field scores from U.S. Open

As the defending champion in Canada, McIlroy was brought into the media center about 24 hours after the news broke. He said that interview that day was the most “uncomfortable” he’s been in the past year.

Believing he’d already addressed the stunning development, McIlroy canceled his Tuesday-morning press conference here at the U.S. Open but appeared in good spirits as he attempted to learn a course that is a virtual unknown to almost every player in the Open field.

McIlroy said that he “loves” the design at LACC, with its five par 3s and three par 5s, and that it’s “so cool.” After 18 holes, he couldn’t quite settle on a comparison. Shades of Seminole, he said. Shinnecock Hills, too. Australia’s Sun Belt, for sure.

“I keep having people ask me what the winning score is gonna be,” he said. “I have no idea. I have no idea.”

McIlroy laughed that his lone U.S. Open win in 2011 was so long ago that most of his memories now are from watching the replays. Twelve years later, he still doesn’t think he has ever struck the ball better than he did that week at Congressional. Though he has had his “ups and downs” in this championship, he is on an upward swing of late, with four consecutive top-10 finishes in golf’s most grueling test.

“I’ve started to figure out how to handle U.S. Open conditions and tests,” he said, “and I think there’s certainly a lot more patience in my game than there used to.”

His patience has certainly been tested recently. After a missed cut at the Masters, he took time off ahead of the PGA Championship and felt uncomfortable with the state of his game at the year’s second major. (He still tied for seventh at Oak Hill.) There have been signs of progress in his last two starts preceding the Open, too, but those performances were marred by final rounds of 75 and 72, respectively, when he was a non-factor by the time the tournament was decided on the back nine.

At Muirfield Village, McIlroy wondered if the outcome might have been different had he played about an hour earlier on Sunday – he made a putt on the final green Saturday that put him in the last group – before the course got pushed to the edge. And in Canada, he struggled to adjust to the speed of the greens on Sunday after morning rainfall.

“I’m building toward something,” he said. “I’m certainly feeling a lot better coming into this major championship than I was going into Oak Hill and did OK there. Minus the last two Sunday, I think, have been really big steps of progress. And it’s just a matter of trying to build on that.”