PINEHURST — At 4:32 p.m on Sunday, Rory McIlroy stared down a birdie putt on the 10th hole in the final round of the U.S. Open. This was it, exactly what he’d wanted in recent years, a putt on the back nine at a major to grab a share of the lead. For all his prodigious gifts, he had not given himself enough chances like this during his decade-long drought in majors, but today felt different. He’d started the day trailing Bryson DeChambeau by three strokes, looking like a clear underdog, and now he had a putt to pull even. A difficult putt, just a hair over 26 feet, but a chance. History would remember whatever happened in the next few hours.

I was standing near DeChambeau, a few hundred yards away from the 10th green, when I realized what I wanted to do. I wanted to remember every scene — every moment that I could — for the next two hours. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to watch one of the greatest back nines in the history of the U.S. Open. I didn’t want to choose sides, I wanted to bear witness to whatever unfolded, and scribble it all down for history’s sake.

Television can’t properly convey what the tension of the back nine of a major feels like. They’re too often showing you shots on tape, then stuffing as many ads in as possible until the story feels like it’s going to suffocate. You’d never know, watching at home, that so much is happening at once, that a roar from the green ahead, or the one behind, can send a message.

It was 4:34 p.m. when McIlroy sent his putt trickling toward the hole. When it dove into the cup, the United States Open was tied at 6-under par. McIlroy gave a subtle fist pump as he walked to retrieve his ball, and a few hundred yards away, DeChambeau took notice.

“I knew what he did based on the roars,” DeChambeau said. “That was actually kind of fun because it gave me the knowledge of what I had to do.”

It was 4:38 p.m. when DeChambeau hit a lay up on the 10th hole. He had driven it right of the fairway yet again, and though he wanted to try and reach the par 5 in two, he knew he couldn’t get there from a dodgy lie. He understood that he did not need to take risks to win, at least not yet. It was McIlroy, in the group ahead, who needed to press.

“Let’s go Bryson!” someone screamed, and DeChambeau nodded as he trudged after his ball.

It was 4:40 p.m when DeChambeau hit a low, spinny pitch toward the 10th green with his third, a shot that checked up inside 5 feet. As he walked to the green, he glanced at the scoreboard, and saw McIlroy’s name listed first, on top of his own. When he went to mark his ball, DeChambeau turned his back as McIlroy uncorked a massive drive toward the 11th fairway, one that came to rest 356 yards away.

“Rory! Rory! Rory!” the fans bellowed, and McIlroy had a bounce in his step as he left the tee box.

It was 4:44 p.m. when DeChambeau rolled in his birdie putt, his first birdie of the day. He did not pump his fist or flex his arms in celebration, he instead tipped his cap and left the green subdued, grateful to have re-taken the lead. As he walked to the 11th tee, he paused when he saw a young man in a motorized wheelchair being escorted around the course by his father. DeChambeau gave him five, then reached into pocket and pulled out a Sharpie. He signed his autograph on the young man’s hat, and high-fived him again before heading to the next tee.

“From my perspective, I’m just passionate,” DeChambeau said, when asked if such gestures toward fans were genuine. “I really care about doing well out here and showing the fans a side of me that was locked up for so long.”

It was 4:46 p.m. when DeChambeau belted his drive from the 11th tee, his body leaning immediately left as if he was trying to guide his ball back into the fairway. His playing partner, Matthieu Pavon, pointed well right, trying to alert the marshall.

“Fore right!” DeChambeau shouted, his shoulders slumping in disappointment.

He turned to his caddie, Gregory Bodine.

“That was a good swing, G-Bo,” DeChambeau said. “Damn. In the hay again.”

He would hit just five fairways on the day, and gain just 0.12 strokes off the tee in Round 4. But as he walked toward his ball, he still clung to a 1-stroke lead.

Up ahead, McIlroy had just hit a mediocre wedge to the back of the green. Only five players in the field on Sunday hit their irons poorer than McIlroy, who lost -1.67 strokes to the field in approach play. But a good lag putt, stopping 9 inches away from 34 feet, helped McIlroy breathe a bit easier.

It was 4:53 p.m. when DeChambeau was ready to hit. He was straddling a wire brush, and unsure of what kind of stance he wanted to take. He wiggled his feet, trying to get comfortable, but nothing felt right. When he finally took a hack at the ball, a cloud of dust exploded at his feet. The ball came out with a weak thud and trundled into the left bunker.

The crowd groaned. He wondered if the U.S. Open was starting to slip from his grasp.

It was 4:56 p.m. when DeChambeau arrived at his ball. He climbed into the bunker, and assessed his lie. It looked daunting. He’d have to fly it more than 30 feet, then get it to check up quickly. When he splashed it toward the pin, his ball checked up but still ran out to 7 feet.

It was 4:57 p.m. when McIlroy hit a wedge to 22 feet on the 12th hole. He did not seem particularly thrilled, but it was safe.

It was 4:59 p.m. when DeChambeau trickled in his par putt. He had to start it well outside the cup, and let gravity take over, but his read was pure, and as he snatched his ball out of the hole, he pumped his fist twice, knowing he’d escaped another pickle from a missed fairway.

“U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” DeChambeau’s fans chanted. “U.S.A.!”

It was 5:01 p.m. when McIlroy rolled in his birdie. There was an eruption of sound, one of the biggest roars of the day, and DeChambeau could hear it from the tee. He knew exactly what it meant.

The U.S. Open was tied yet again, this time at -7 under par.

“I'm like, Oh, man, he's gunning, he's going for it,” DeChambeau said. “So I had to put my foot on the pedal and push down pretty hard, as well.”

It was 5:02 p.m. when DeChambeau hit his drive on 12. It sailed to the right again, a theme for the day. He’s switched driver heads on the range before the round, a decision he’d come to regret.

“I probably shouldn't have changed the heads,” DeChambeau said. “I was trying to get a fresh head in there. It had a good curvature on the face, but it was a little bit lower loft. For whatever reason, those lower lofted heads have been missing right. Consequently I missed it right all day. A bit frustrating, but the face that I was using for the past three days was just starting to get flat.”

His ball ran through a fairway bunker, then came to rest near a clump of thick wiregrass. When he arrived at the ball, he put his hands on his hips in disgust, crouching down low to see if there was any avenue of escape.

It would be impossible, he decided, to advance it to the green.

It was 5:07 p.m. when McIlroy launched a towering drive at the 13th hole, a 316-yard driveable Par 4. It flew the green and bounded off the front of the grandstands, kicking back toward the green.

It was 5:09 p.m. when DeChambeau decided to pitch out to the fairway, a mature decision but one that wasn’t embraced by his fans. A chorus of groans rippled through the crowd, knowing he’d have to get up and down from 76 yards just to save par.

It was 5:11 p.m., when he lofted his third shot toward the green, only to watch it come up well short of where he wanted. He’d need to make a 22-footer to avoid a bogey.

It was 5:12 p.m. when McIlroy sent a low running chip toward the flagstick, then watched it run out a bit too much for comfort. It settled 3 feet behind the flag. He’d have that putt to take back the lead.

It was 5:15 p.m. when DeChambeau gently stroked his par putt, but it never had a chance, missing well to the right. For just the second time all day, he’d made a bogey, and now he was in serious trouble of letting the championship slip from his grasp. A few meek “U.S.A” chants rippled through the crowd, but they quickly died down as DeChambeau walked to the 13th tee.

It was 5:16 p.m. when DeChambeau heard the roar. McIlroy had just rolled in another birdie putt, his fourth birdie in the last five holes. The Northern Irishman, who began the day trailing by three strokes, now led him by two.

“Rory! Rory! Rory!” the crowd chanted.

DeChambeau admitted he could hear them.

“I knew I had to drive the green,” he said. “I knew I had to make birdie on that hole.”

It was 5:18 p.m. when DeChambeau pulled out his 3 wood, knowing his driver would go too far. It was not a club that had been in his bag prior to the U.S. Open.

“I found a Crank 3-wood that works fantastic,” DeChambeau said. “I'm actually happy I just got 14 clubs in my bag now, if I'm being honest with you. I've been playing with like 12 or 13 for the past year.”

His 3-wood turned out to be one of the most important clubs of the day. He used it to send a ball screaming toward the 13th green, and it came to rest on the putting surface, producing yet another roar from the gallery.

It was 5:23 p.m. when McIlroy and DeChambeau passed one another, McIlroy walked down the hill, DeChambeau going up it, neither one glancing in the other’s direction. But each was clearly aware of the other’s presence.

“Rory is one of the best to ever play,” DeChambeau said. “Being able to fight against a great like that is pretty special.”

It was 5:25 p.m. when McIlroy arrived at the spot where his drive on 14 came to rest, just off the fairway. It had hit a fan, he’d been informed, which had kept it from trickling toward more nightmarish wiregrass. There was some brush surrounding his ball, some television cables that needed to be moved, but he had a clean lie and a look at the green.

It was 5:26 p.m. when DeChambeau left his eagle putt a foot short. He touched his fist to his mouth, biting down in mock frustration, but quickly tapped in for a birdie.

McIlroy’s lead was down to one stroke.

It was 5:27 p.m. when McIlroy launched a high draw toward the 14th green, but once the ball was halfway there, it was clear it was going to miss well to the left. It did not matter to the crowd, which was riding a wave of energy and tension. He’d have to get up and down from 51 feet away.

“Rory! Rory! Rory!” they shouted.

McIlroy marched onward, outwardly stone faced, but also clearly wrestling with nerves.

It was 5:29 p.m. when DeChambeau took another violent rip with his driver, his ball over-hooking this time, tumbling through the wire grass.

“Big Poppa Pump!” screamed one of DeChambeau’s fans.

It was 5:31 p.m. when McIlroy hit his chip onto the 14th green, a good shot but not without stress. He’d need to make a 4-footer to stay a stroke ahead.

It was 5:34 p.m. when McIlroy was ready to putt. In the left rough, DeChambeau watched from nearly 200 yards away, fiddling with his pencil. “That’s doable,” he said, looking down at his ball. He was doing math in his yardage book, trying not to pay attention to what was happening on the green, but still stealing a glance every few seconds. His caddie, Bodine, chewed on his nails nervously.

It was 5:35 p.m. when McIlroy rolled in his par putt. Another roar from the gallery.

DeChambeau didn’t react. He just kept checking the numbers in his book and his head.

It was 5:36 p.m. when DeChambeau consulted with his caddie one last time.

“Do you like a 10 o’clock swing?” DeChambeau asked.

“Absolutely,” Bodine replied.

DeChambeau heard all he needed to hear. They were going to play for a flier, but with the awareness that they could not miss long. Long was dead. He trusted Bodine as much as he’d ever trusted a caddie.

“He's very mellow,” DeChambeau said later. “I've had a lot of A-type personalities. They've worked great; I've done very well. But he's been a special human being for me in my life, getting me to realize what life is about. It's not just all about golf. He works hard. He's a diligent worker. Brings the best out of me.”

DeChambeau’s approach landed on the front edge of the green. He’d escaped jail yet again.

It was 5:39 p.m. when McIlroy launched a 7 iron shot at the 15th green, the 205-yard Par 3. The trajectory was lower than he wanted, and he knew it right away. He bounced up and down a bit, bending his knees, knowing he was in trouble. His ball bounded over the green and ran into the sand and brush.

“We’ve got wiregrass in play!” one young DeChambeau fan screamed to his friend. “He’s in the wiregrass!”

It was 5:41 p.m. when DeChambeau’s birdie putt stopped up near the hole, but still three feet away. On a day like this one, nothing seemed holed until it was resting at the bottom of the cup.

It was 5:42 p.m. when McIlroy stood over his chip, taking a long look and trying to sort out the possibilities. Chip it long and he’d leave himself a difficult par putt. Chip it short and he’d risk it coming back to his feet, ending up in an even worse lie. He decided to knock it long and take his chances. He’d have 51 feet coming back up the hill.

It was 5:43 p.m. when DeChambeau stroked his par putt. He hesitated for a moment when the ball came off the face, a flash of panic washing across his face, but the ball found the cup. The lead remained one stroke. He took a deep sigh as he walked to the next tee.

It was 5:45 p.m. when McIlroy missed his long par putt. His lead, which had been two strokes 29 minutes ago, had vanished. His shoulders slumped.

DeChambeau and McIlroy were once again tied at 7-under par.

It was 5:46 p.m. when DeChambeau went looking for water. A volunteer tried to hand him a cold bottle from the cooler, but he shrugged him away. He wanted warm water, a bottle that hadn’t been chilled yet. He guzzled it down, then closed his eyes for a second, pressing his hand to his face.

It was 5:48 p.m. when DeChambeau put his tee in the ground, then turned once again to Bodine.

“A 5 o’clock?” DeChambeau said, rehearsing his backswing. “Like that?”

Bodine nodded. He fired it at the middle of the green.

It was a strategy he and Bodine kept repeating all week.

“The middle of the green,” DeChambeau said, “doesn’t move.”

It was 5:51 p.m. when McIlroy addressed his ball on the 16th tee. He put his hand to his mouth, then blew air on his hand, a tick he has when he’s nervous. He wiggled his feet and glanced at the fairway once, twice, three times. Then he smashed one of his best drives all week, a 349-yard missile that split the fairway.

It was 5:53 p.m. when DeChambeau arrived at his birdie putt. He was 25 feet from the hole, but it seemed makeable. He could see that McIlroy had just split the fairway on 16.

“You got this, brother!” a fan screamed.

The putt was trickier than it looked, however. It ran four feet by.

“Good miss!” another fan yelled. “No shot there!”

It was 5:56 p.m. when DeChambeau was ready to hit his par putt, but he couldn’t quite get comfortable. Something about the putt was bugging him. He wiggled his feet, and rocked his shoulders during his practice swing, then send the putt humming toward the hole with a bit more speed than it needed.

It lipped out. It was DeChambeau’s first three putt of the tournament.

McIlroy could hear the groan from the 16th fairway. Suddenly he had a one-stroke lead again.

Three straight pars might win him his fifth major.

It was 5:57 p.m. when McIlroy sent his approach whistling toward the 16th green.

For 25 years, the 16th green has possessed a certain aura, an eerie power, ever since Payne Stewart made a 25-foot par putt that helped him hold off Phil Mickelson to win the U.S. Open. Legend has it that the bells of The Village Chapel, the church just across the street from Pinehurst No. 2, went off just after Stewart made his putt.

It would not offer the same divine intervention to McIlroy.

His approach stopped 25 feet below the hole. He still clung to a one-stroke lead.

It was 5:59 p.m. when DeChambeau hit his drive, the ball once again darting left off the tee. It bounded through the wiregrass, bouncing around like a pinball, before it hopped back toward the fairway. It was only the fifth time all day one of his drives found the fairway.

“When I was a kid, I used to throw golf balls in the worst lies outside of the fairway and just learned to hit out of the worst situations to see what I could do,” DeChambeau said. “That sparked a lot of my creativity.”

It was 6:01 p.m. when McIlroy stroked his birdie putt. It looked good most of the way, missing by just a few inches to the right. It stopped 2 feet, 6 inches behind the hole. For the season, according to statistician Justin Ray of the Twenty First Group, McIlroy had made 496 out of 496 putts inside of three feet.

It was 6:04 p.m. when McIlroy went to clean up his short par putt. But a par putt late in the final round of a U.S. Open — particularly when you haven’t won a major in a decade — is never just an easy brush stroke. He hit it a bit too hard, started it farther to the left than he must have wanted, and it lipped gently out, much to his horror.

You could hear the groans of the crowd echo through the pines.

McIlroy put his hand out, imploring the ball to stop rolling. But the damage was done.

He and DeChambeau were tied, once again, for the U.S. Open lead.

It was 6:06 p.m. when DeChambeau hit his approach into 16, and he knew it was going to be good from the moment it left his clubface. He put his hands on his knees, watching as the ball descending from the sky, right in line with the pin.

It stopped 22 feet below the hole. He’d have a makeable uphill birdie putt to get the lead back for the first time in an hour.

It was 6:08 p.m. when McIlroy launched a 6 iron at the 17th green, and the light was turning gold in the sky. You could see the ball dancing through the air, cutting through a gentle breeze, and know that he’d tugged it left. His shot tumbled into the bunker.

It was 6:10 p.m. when DeChambeau stood over his birdie putt, trying to control his nerves. McIlroy had already arrived at his ball in the bunker when DeChambeau sent his putt toward the cup, and for a few seconds, it felt there was no sound at all. Even a rowdy crowd was holding its collective breath.

DeChambeau’s putt climbed the hill and brushed the left edge of the cup, just missing by less than an inch. As it did, DeChambeau fell to his knees, begging for the ball to drop.

It was still 6:10 p.m. when McIlroy hit his bunker shot, maybe 15 seconds after he heard the groan from the 16th green, knowing the birdie had missed. They were still tied.

McIlroy splashed his bunker shot just over the lip, far enough to trickle toward the hole. It stopped 3 feet away. He was able to roll it in a minute later for a par.

It was 6:16 p.m. when McIlroy got ready to hit his drive on 18, but just as he was about to pull the club back, he decided to step away. DeChambeau’s ball was flying through the air, landing in the middle of 17 green.

For a few seconds, it was bedlam.

“I knew what I had to get done,” DeChambeau said.

It was 6:17 p.m. when McIlroy addressed the ball again. The crowd was now hushed, and the only sound everyone could hear was the hum of the TV drones looming just above.

McIlroy blew on his hand one more time, then took an aggressive lash at the ball. Joe LaCava, Patrick Cantlay’s caddie, immediately pointed left as McIlroy watched it sail toward the grandstands.

It was 6:18 p.m. when DeChambeau walked toward 17th green. He began waving his putter like a maestro guiding his orchestra, encouraging the fans as they roared back to life.

“U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”

“Rory! Rory! Rory!” another part of the grandstand volleyed back.

It was 6:20 p.m. when McIlroy arrived at his ball. It had not hit the grandstands, but instead had settled down in the wiregrass, a clump of it directly to the left. A par would be difficult, a birdie close to impossible.

It was 6:22 p.m. when DeChambeau rolled his birdie putt toward the hole, but it was not the right speed or the right line. He shook his head with disappointment. The U.S. Open would either be decided on the 72nd hole, or in a playoff.

It was 6:24 p.m. when McIlroy took a hack at his approach shot. It was not a confident swing. His right hand came off the club on his follow through, and the ball squirted forward, stopping short of the green. If he could get up and down, DeChambeau would have to birdie the last.

It was 6:25 p.m. when DeChambeau stood over his drive. He looked like he planned on pummeling the ball. You could see the vein in his left bicep bulging with tension. He took a violent swipe at the ball and grimaced immediately, knowing it was curving hard to the left. It tumbled through some wiregrass, and came to rest just inches from a tree root, beneath a branch.

It was 6:26 p.m. when McIlroy chipped his ball at the pin, getting it to stop 3 feet away. Considering the circumstances — and the pressure that was obvious to everyone — it was an excellent shot. All he needed was to knock it in and start thinking about a potential playoff. Considering where DeChambeau’s drive had landed, there was a real chance a par was going to win the U.S. Open.

It was 6:29 p.m. when DeChambeau arrived at his ball. Everything felt like it was moving so fast. He got into a crouch without a club, trying to imagine a shot, and he wasn’t sure he could do it. He called a rules official over.

“Is that tower a potential TIO?” he asked.

The rules official crouched behind DeChambeau’s ball.

“No, I’m sorry,” he said.

It was still 6:29 p.m. when McIlroy lined up his par putt.

He had to start it outside the hole, which was obvious by the way he was aligned. But right at contact, the ball seemed to dart to the right with devilish intent. There is a chance Rory McIlroy will think about what happened next, off and on, for the rest of his life.

The ball rode the lip and wobbled by. Bogey.

“For him to miss that putt, I'd never wish it on anybody,” DeChambeau said.

McIlroy took his hat off and shook hands with Cantlay and LaCava. He looked like he was leaving a funeral. He went inside the Pinehurst clubhouse to sign his scorecard and watch the rest on television.

It was 6:30 p.m. when DeChambeau heard the groan from the crowd. He knew a par would now win the U.S. Open. But how was he going to get one?

He grabbed a club and got into his stance. If he tried to take a full backswing, the tree branch was going to snag his club. He decided to change from pitching wedge to 9 iron. He got back into his stance. The crowd did its best to be quiet.

“I am not comfortable with this, G-Bo,” DeChambeau said. His mind was racing.

“Just stay in it,” Bodine said. “If it goes into the bunker, that’s okay.”

It was 6:33 p.m. when DeChambeau hit a low punch, hoping it would run through a gap between the bunkers and onto the green. But the ball faded to the right and tumbled into the bunker. He now needed to pull off an incredibly hard up and down to win the U.S. Open.

As DeChambeau assessed his options, Bodine told him something he will never forget.

“You’ve got this shot,” he said. “I’ve seen way harder shots than this pulled off from you.”

It was 6:34 p.m. when DeChambeau climbed into the bunker. There was no sense in wasting time. He was either going to hit a great shot, or end up in a playoff. He didn’t think about blading the ball into the windows of the clubhouse restaurant. He knew if anything he was going to hit the ball a little fat, just let it chunk and run toward the hole. He figured he could get this ball up and down four or five times out of a 100, but this might just be one of those times.

It was 6:35 p.m. when DeChambeau thumped the sand. His ball did exactly what he was asking of it, trundling forward and bounding up the slope toward the flag. He flexed his arms like a weightlifter when he saw it slowing down, cozying up near the hole.

“C’mon!” he screamed, and you could barely hear it above the roar of the gallery.

He was a 3-foot putt away from holding the trophy.

It was 6:36 p.m. when Pavon hit his putt toward the hole, just inside DeChambeau’s ball. He decided to mark it and wait for DeChambeau to finish, a decision the raucous crowd did not appreciate.

“C’mon, Pavon!”

“Finish out!”

“Get out of the way!”

DeChambeau did not appreciate it.

“Guys, no! Stop that!” he shouted, waving his arms at the crowd. The booing died down.

He was going to stick up for Pavon’s right to finish the hole however he wanted.

It was 6:37 p.m. when DeChambeau rolled in his par putt. He tilted his head to the sky and flexed his arms like he’d just won a gold medal for weightlifting instead of the U.S. Open. He turned to the crowd and roared like a lion, then spun around and did it again to the crowd on the other side of the hole.

After Pavon tapped in his par putt, DeChambeau roared all over again, wrapping up Bodine in an exuberant bear hug.

It was 6:43 p.m. when Rory McIlroy walked out of the Pinehurst clubhouse. He was still wearing his golf clothes. His shirt was untucked, and he wasn’t making eye contact with anyone. He opened the trunk of his Lexus courtesy car, No. 117, then climbed into the driver seat. It was clear he wasn’t going to talk with reporters.

He backed out slowly, a small army of golf media filming him as he got his car turned around, and then he stepped on the gas. A small bit of gravel spun up beneath the car's wheels. He pulled out of the parking lot and onto McKenzie Road.

It was 7:19 p.m. when DeChambeau entered the press room. He was cradling the trophy like one might cradle a baby, and he continued the illusion by giving the trophy a gentle kiss.

He talked about his dad, who passed away 18 months ago from complications with diabetes, and he talked about his friends, the ones who pulled him out of a funk when he wondered if his career was in jeopardy.

“That whole four or five-month period was pretty rough,” DeChambeau said. “There were some definite low moments. Made me rethink a lot of things in life.”

He also said he could empathize with McIlroy, and predicted that a loss like this would only fuel his fire to get back here.

“Rory is one of the best to ever play,” DeChambeau said. “Being able to fight against a great like that is pretty special. He’ll win multiple more major championships. … I'd love to have a lot more battles with him. It would be a lot of fun.”

It was 7:29 p.m. when McIlroy’s plane lifted off from Pinehurst, headed to West Palm Beach, just ahead of the setting sun.

Kevin Van Valkenburg is the Editorial Director of No Laying Up

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