After spending so much time in the rough and in the clouds of self-doubt, Rory McIlroy has somehow hacked, gouged, grinded his way into contention at the US PGA Championship.
There have been a few tournaments in recent years where he has spent too long on a losing streak against his game but this has given off a whiff of a wonderful possibility with one round to play at Oak Hill.
He’ll get down to business on Sunday at one-under-par and with decent wind in his sails thanks to a 69, where he finally showed signs of his better form.
Translating that into anything more meaningful remains a daunting task — at press time, Corey Conners, Viktor Hovland, Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose were on the course and spread between six and three under — but it’s amazing McIlroy even one chance, because it was sheer force of will that drove him for the first two-thirds of this major.
As recently as Friday he spoke of feeling ‘terrible’ on the ball, and his approach over the weekend amounted to blasting as much as he could off the tee, given his lack of confidence in the accuracy of his driver. . What happened Saturday wasn’t quite as gung-ho, but it was more effective, with an improved ratio of six fairways hit to 14 and a number of clutch putts on the hole.
Rory McIlroy has moved into contention in the third round at the US PGA Championship
McIlroy rode out the worst of the storm that day and still shot an impressive 69
-5 Conners, Hovland
-2 Scheffler, Rose
E Block, Suh
+1 Lowry, Fleetwood
In the end, it may add up to little more than another backdoor entry to a strong placement at a major – flattering to deceive, if you will – but at least the numbers are more pleasing to the eye than those swings.
‘It didn’t go well,’ McIlroy said. ‘I can play better. Even now, I just aim it to one side of the hole and hit the driver and just accept that it’s probably going to mess up. It’s funny, I’m receiving the ball more now, and I’m hitting more fairways because of it. A little more of a nonchalant attitude seems to work a little better.
‘Obviously I want to be two shots closer to the lead, but the way I feel this week, if you told me on Thursday night that I would go into Sunday in the top five and have a realistic chance of winning this golf tournament, it took I would have had it.’
Playing in the worst storm of the day, the world No 3 birdied the third and fifth holes to go two under for the championship, before saving a bogey on six with seven feet. He saved a par from the sand at seven, but two more bogeys followed at eight and nine after a pair of loose approaches.
At that stage, his momentum seemed to be gone, but three birdies in five holes from the 12th took the Northern Irishman to two under. Just as important as the strokes gained on that run was the one he saved with an 11-footer for par on 15.
Disaster lurked at the par-four 17th, where McIlroy missed the green on his third, but he again limited the bleeding by getting up and down for a difficult bogey. A similar recovery was needed from the greenside rough for par at the last. His second consecutive round of 69 was hard earned, even if that was given a course that had been brutally tough all week.
Hovland and Conners did a good job of avoiding those challenges – the overnight leader took a step forward to reach six under to 14 – while Koepka, so close at The Masters, again bringing the look of a big-game hunter.
Brooks Koepka takes a one-shot lead into the final round of the US PGA Championship on Sunday
The four-time major winner is five under after 16 holes, three better than Rose, who has one more to play. Also at three under are Bryson DeChambeau, who was booed on the first tee, as well as Koepka, perhaps due to their abandonment of the LIV circuit.
Having worse than cohort world No 1 Jon Rahm. It is a rare thing to see the Spaniard struggling, but his third-round 72 left him well off the pace over six and his temper reflected the situation.
The first of the two meltdowns came on the fifth hole, when he hit his chip on the par three on his way to a bogey. He swiped at a television microphone with his wedge.
Three holes later, Rahm regained his temper when he sliced his drive right and over a fence. In his search for the missing ball, he became angry with a nearby camera crew, telling them: ‘Don’t aim at my face when I’m angry.’