PINEHURST, N.C. — When Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay greeted each other with a quick fist bump and the very briefest of pleasantries on the first tee Sunday as they began their final rounds of the 2024 U.S. Open, I had the thought that they might not exchange another word until the very end of the final round. I was wrong: On the third hole, Cantlay pulled his tee shot left, and before walking up the fairway, McIlroy had to take a moment to clarify with him whether it had in fact gone out of bounds, and whether had to retee.

Other than that? Nothing, at least through the first eight holes. This is no surprise. It’s hard to say how often one golfer calls another a “d***,” but it’s safe to say it rarely happens on the record. It did in this case, with McIlroy conferring the honorary title on Cantlay in an interview with the Irish press. We don’t need to retread their entire history, but briefly, their first notable public conflict came at last September’s Ryder Cup, when Cantlay was taunted all day about not wearing a hat by the European fans, and it culminated in a match-winning putt on 18 … after which, Cantlay’s caddie Joe LaCava stood so long waving his hat around to taunt the fans that it messed with Rory reading his own putt. That led to words, which led to a parking lot tantrum between McIlroy and a wrong place/wrong time innocent bystander, Jim “Bones” Mackay, of all people. Since then, Cantlay and McIlroy have been silent enemies on the LIV merger battle, with McIlroy on the side of a merger and the Cantlay faction wanting to move more slowly. In short, these guys are not friends.

But McIlroy shook hands with LaCava on the first tee, fist bumped Cantlay, winked at one or both of them, and then no more words were exchanged beyond the OB confusion on three, including when they were standing two feet apart on the tees. Somehow, though, the silence didn’t feel very dramatic or all that icy. The final round at the U.S. Open, when you’re in contention, isn’t a particularly chatty atmosphere in the first place, and it’s not like anybody expected these guys to be exchanging addresses for Christmas cards. Plus, unlike the Ryder Cup, this isn’t a team event; even though we’re in the U.S., Rory was the recipient of more fan support because he’s one of the world’s most popular players.

The only potential drama beyond that was Cantlay’s notoriously slow pace of play. On the Golf Channel Saturday night, Paul McGinley predicted it might bother McIlroy, but if it did—Cantlay was slow on a few putts—he wasn’t showing it. And it wasn’t affecting the pace of the final groups past their own, because Bryson DeChambeau and Matthieu Pavon behind them were just as slow.

So: Is it possible the two erstwhile enemies have a knock-down, drag-out donnybrook on the back nine? Sure. But it feels like the most likely outcome was the one playing out at Pinehurst—two professionals going about their business in a high-stress situation, paying as little attention to their opponent as possible.


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