Rory McIlroy’s nine-year wait for a fifth major win goes on after he was beaten by one shot by American Wyndham Clark at the US Open in Los Angeles.
Clark, 29, carded a level-par 70 to claim his first major on 10 under par and the $3.6m (£2.8m) winner’s cheque.
“US Opens are tough. I felt at ease though and kept saying to myself, ‘I can do this, I can do this’,” he said.
McIlroy looked shattered after another close call in a major but said: “I’m right there, it’s such fine margins.”
Underdog Clark’s triumph, a fine storyline in Hollywood, means it is now 3,234 days since McIlroy’s last major triumph, at the US PGA Championship at Valhalla in 2014.
And whether at Southern Hills, Torrey Pines, the Augusta National, St Andrews or now on Los Angeles Country Club’s ultra-exclusive north course, a theme has continued of the Northern Irishman just falling short – he now has 19 top-10 finishes in majors, including in each of the past five US Opens.
After posting a 70 to finish on nine under, he said on Sky Sports: “I have just got to keep putting myself in these positions. Sooner or later it’s going to happen for me.”
The world number three, who has essentially won everything else there is to win in golf is sure to place this week high on his list of missed opportunities.
However, like in his final reckoning of the 150th Open Championship last summer it was tough to find too much fault with a performance in a final round that yielded one birdie, one bogey and 16 pars.
His only possible regret will be that he was unable to exert enough pressure on Clark on a day when he found green after green in regulation.
An opening birdie set the right tone but thereafter it proved a difficult day for McIlroy with putter in hand on the treacherously quick and dried out surfaces.
A missed birdie putt from four feet on the par-five eighth proved pivotal as did a messy bogey at the par-five 14th despite being given a free drop after plugging his approach into the muddy bank of a greenside bunker.
“There are a couple of things I will rue,” he added. “The chip on 14 being one.
“It was really hard to get the ball close [to the holes] but I hung in there and just didn’t quite get the job done.
“I will keep coming back until I get another one.”
Prior to this week Clark had only made the cut in two of his six previous major championship appearances with a tie for 75th at the US PGA Championship in 2021 his best finish.
However, the world number 32 repeatedly belied his lack of major championship experience to announce himself on one of the game’s biggest stages in fine style.
Clark, who claimed his first PGA Tour win at Quail Hollow last month, looked calm and confident on the sun-kissed north course and even when he found himself in difficulty was able to limit the damage to his scorecard.
After taking two attempts to play out of waist high clumps of grass to the left of the eighth green he was able to superbly chip to three feet to ensure he dropped only one shot.
“That up and down for bogey was probably the key to the tournament,” said Clark who is the fifth successive player to win his first major at the US Open.
Clark also worked himself out of another tricky situation at the par-three ninth, draining a seven foot putt to salvage par after hitting his tee shot into the rough on the edge of a greenside bunker.
Dropped shots on the 15th and 16th revived the possibility of late drama, but a visibly emotional Clark, who had poignantly talked of wanting to win for his late mother, Lise, who died of breast cancer in 2013, hugged caddie John Ellis and family members on the 18th green after parring the last to seal his victory.
“I just felt like my mom was watching over me,” he said.
“I just feel like it was my time. I have dreamed of this moment for so long and there are so many times I have visualised being here in front of you guys and winning this championship.”
The best of the rest
World number one Scottie Scheffler was third, two shots further adrift after also signing for a 70.
Joint overnight leader Rickie Fowler slipped to a disappointing five-over 75 as he finished in a tie for fifth.
Fowler’s bogey at the 18th was one of seven overall as he fell away to end up a shot behind reigning Open champion Cameron Smith, who made three birdies on the back nine during a late charge.
Australia’s Min Woo Lee and Tommy Fleetwood also ended the championship on five under, with the Englishman making eagles on the sixth and 14th holes as he delivered the lowest round of the day with a seven-under 63.
It saw the 32-year-old, who also made four birdies, create history as he became the first player to shoot 63 twice at the US Open and the fourth player after Greg Norman, Vijay Singh and Brooks Koepka to post multiple 63s in major championships.
World number two Jon Rahm signed for a five-under 65 to finish at three under in a tie for 10th, with England’s defending champion ending the championship at one under alongside US PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka.