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Heartbreak comes in different shapes and sizes. It can be as simple as finding out your first grade crush doesn't like like you back or as complex as ending a long-term relationship in which marriage felt destined. While the pain may last weeks, months or perhaps even years, the manner in which one bounces back from the depths of despair is often how they are defined moving forward. 

For Will Zalatoris and Rory McIlroy, the same can be said after their runs at the 2022 U.S. Open fell short. They are now the only two golfers in the world who have claimed top-10 finishes in the year's first three major championships without a single victory to show for it. It's a moniker no one wants to shoulder, but their close calls on golf's biggest stages in 2022 are viewed by themselves in almost entirely different lights.

Eight years apart in age, it is the elder statesman McIlroy who has made a habit of playing games like most 20-somethings do. A final-round 64 at the Masters propelled the four-time major champion into solo second. He followed that with a first-round lead and Sunday front-nine surge at the PGA Championship.

Opening his last 18 holes at the U.S. Open with a birdie to climb within two of the 54-hole leaders, another McIlroy charge felt inevitable. Comparable to receiving an unsolicited "Happy Birthday!" text from an ex, the Northern Irishman once again had the greater golf audience wondering, "What if this time is different?"

Roughly five hours later, we received our answer. McIlroy ultimately finished tied for fifth, four stokes behind U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick. He carded bogey on four of his first 11 holes, and a clean sheet over the final seven with two birdies was not enough to vault him back into contention.

"I'll look back at this as another missed opportunity, just as Southern Hills was, but missed opportunities are better than not contending at all. So, that is a positive," said McIlroy. 

He added: "It's not win or bust. It's not as if where I finished [Sunday] is the same as not playing on the weekend. I guess when I look back, will I remember the fifth place I had at Brookline? Probably not."

After not being able to take advantage of the second-best putting performance of his career, McIlroy must now ensure the unlucky streak (or mental block) he's experienced in majors does not grow into a greater sense of self-doubt.

McIlroy, 33, is far from the 25-year-old he was in 2014 when he won three consecutive tournaments, two of which were major championships. That led Jack Nicklaus to project 20+ such titles in his future. The pressure was on.

Time is no longer on McIlroy's side, and even he must be growing weary of these near misses.


Rory McIlroyWill Zalatoris

Masters

2nd

T6

PGA Championship

8th

2nd (playoff)

U.S. Open

T5

T2

The opposite appears true for Zalatoris whose recent disappointments have been intimately more painful.

As if he is getting stronger with every major championship under his belt, the 25-year-old continues to shine when the lights are the brightest. A playoff loser to Justin Thomas at last month's PGA Championship, Zalatoris fell one stroke shy of forcing another at the U.S. Open.

What Zalatoris has done in these spots has simply been incredible as he is arguably three strokes away from being three-fourths of the way to the career grand slam. 

"I've got no regrets," said Zalatoris. "I thought I played great all week, especially getting off to the start that I did [Sunday]. It stings, obviously to have three runner-ups so far in my career in majors but keep knocking on that door. We're obviously doing the right things. I'd pay a lot of money for about an inch and a half, and I'd probably be a three-time major champion at this point."

Zalatoris' tone while speaking was oddly optimistic, one that shows he's capable of brushing off a disappointing date or three. There is no woe is me, only intent, purpose and belief that his championship moment is not a matter of "if" but "when." That's how a man with time as his ally sounds.

"This one hurts in particular pretty hard, but it's motivating," said Zalatoris after missing a 14-foot birdie bid on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Fitzpatrick. "I've got to keep doing what I'm doing. I know I'm going to get one sooner or later."

While Zalatoris sees this year's U.S. Open as motivation, McIlroy views it as a missed chance he would rather forget.

Zalatoris speaks like a guy fresh on the dating scene ready to get hurt again while McIlroy is exhausted from mundane coffee chats filled with conversational topics like occupation, hobbies and dog breeds with only the slightest of sparks flying through.

Their results in these championships have been stellar and worthy of celebration, but despite being a near match on paper, their reactions could not be less compatible.