- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2011

Thirty-six holes into this U.S. Open, one guy is clearly the story. In a tournament where winners often struggle to even get under par, Rory McIlroy’s 65-66 for 11-under was awe-worthy.

Naturally, just about every golfer stepping off the course at Congressional Country Club was asked about him.

How amazing is this? Will this change your approach this weekend?

“I have bigger things to worry about than Rory McIlroy,” Sergio Garcia said.

Except that McIlroy is the guy everyone has to worry about going into the weekend. Of course others chasing him on the leaderboard insist they can’t focus on him.

“I’m going to play my game,” Zach Johnson said. “I can’t control the leaderboard. I certainly can’t control what Rory is doing or anybody.”

It’s hard for golfers who just finished their own 18 holes of tunnel vision to wax poetic about McIlroy’s two-day masterpiece — but all were complimentary.

“He’s striking it flawlessly and putted great on the greens,” said Phil Mickelson, who played with McIlroy. “His first two rounds were very impressive.”

Added Robert Garrigus: “You’ve just got to make everything, and he’s making everything.”

Then there’s that whole thing about pressure. McIlroy led the Masters after 54 holes and coughed it away on the back nine.

“I’m not the one that’s supposed to win it right now,” Johnson said. “I’m not saying I don’t want to lead, but I don’t know how many shots he’s winning by. It’s got to be at least seven, right, eight, nine? You know, that’s pretty good.”

For a 22-year-old widely praised for how he handled that Masters meltdown and for some charitable efforts that included a trip to Haiti with UNICEF last week, it’s hard to find too many who wish him ill will. Even competitors appreciate what this weekend could mean for McIlroy.

“I think it would be great for him to win. He’s a wonderful player, very nice kid,” Garcia said. “Even if what happened at Augusta would have not happened, it would be nice for him to win. I think he deserves it, and hopefully he’ll be able to do it.”