McIlroy excited to be in “the thick things” at US Open; thinks 68 could do it

John Craven
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McIlroy excited to be in “the thick things” at US Open; thinks 68 could do it

Rory McIlroy tees off on the 18th hole during the third round at the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, Calif. on Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Darren Carroll/USGA)

Rory McIlroy has soared into contention to end a seven-year Major drought after producing his best golf of the week so far in a four-under par 67 to move to within two shots of the lead ahead of the final round of the US Open at Torrey Pines.

It was vintage McIlroy for much of Saturday’s third round in San Diego, the four-time Major winner lighting up the course with five birdies, while his only dropped shot of the round was a bogey he fist-pumped holing out after finding the canyon left of the 15th tee.

“Yeah, huge, huge to keep momentum,” McIlroy said of holing the testing four-footer. “As I said, this is the only tournament in the world where you fist pump a bogey.

“I just played a really solid round of golf. There was really one loose shot out there, which was the drive on 15, but apart from that, it’s one of the best rounds of golf I’ve played in a while.”

And it showed. The Holywood star’s play – matched only by Paul Casey’s 67 – saw him cut through the field on golf’s traditional moving day to get to three-under par for the tournament and within striking distance of Louis Oosthuizen, Mackenzie Hughes and Russell Henley who share top spot at five-under.

It had McIlroy racking his brain post-round as he tried to remember when he last found himself in such victory contention:

“I mean, I’m trying to think of the last time where I really felt like I had a chance,” he said. “Carnoustie in ’18 felt like I maybe had half a chance, going into the final day at Pebble in 2019. But apart from that, there’s been some good finishes but never felt like I was in the thick of things.

“As I said, I’m just excited for the opportunity to have a chance and be in one of the final groups.”

The key to McIlroy’s play on Saturday was patience. He gave himself a pile of chances over his opening nine holes and only took one of them in a bogey-free outward nine. His patience paid dividends with four birdies on the back and after targeting two weekend rounds of 68, McIlroy’s managed one-shot better in the first part of that mission. Repeat the formula on Sunday and there’s every chance the 2011 US Open winner will be a two-time champion with five Majors next to his name:

“I thought two 68s over the weekend from where I was after Friday was going to have a good chance. I’ve done the first part of that job. Now it’s up to me tomorrow to go out and try to play a similar round of golf, and yeah, that’s it.”

Meanwhile, Shane Lowry has one round remaining before a next major championship – the two-year wait for the defence of the famed Claret Jug.

Lowry will, no doubt, be looking for a low one over the final day of the U.S. Open Championship after posting a roller-coaster third round one-over par 72 for a 54-hole five-over par total on the South Course at Torrey Pines.

It’s a second straight U.S. Open where Lowry has not broken 70 on the opening three days while when he made the cut in the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills ,he also did not get into the 60s.

Lowry’s day three effort of three birdies and also four bogeys saw him head to the Torrey Pines clubhouse just inside the top-60, ending his round well before the leaders had teed-off in the record-setting $US12.5m event.

Though it was a frustrating ‘moving day’ right to the very end for Lowry when his approach shot into the last, the par-5 18th, spun back into the water in taking a closing bogey.

Lowry managed pars at the opening five holes through to the par-4 sixth where he found a greenside bunker from where he two-putted for a bogey ‘5’. He then produced the best spell in his round with back-to-back birdies, first in superbly holing a 20-footer for a birdie ‘2’ at the par3 eighth hole and then for a first time in three days Lowry birdied the par- 5 ninth in sending an 11-footer to the bottom of the cup.

Lowry dropped a second shot of his day at the 12th but made amends superbly, holing a 21-footer at the next, the par-5 13th. He made par on 14 and 15 but it got ugly at the par-3 16th where he three-putted for a bogey ‘4’ and after a par on 17, we know what unfolded at the last. Looking closer into his round, Lowry hit just six of 14 fairways and therein was pretty much the story of his moving day.

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