Rory McIlroy took one step forward and another back in round three of the PGA Championship at Oak Hill but he managed to chisel 69 to move to within of the lead held by Brooks Koepka.
McIlroy stands on one-under-par after mixing five birdies with four bogeys as the hope of a rapid Irish moving day alongside playing partner Shane Lowry (+1) never really materialised.
It felt any time he got himself into the thick of things he would card a bogey and have to climb the mountain again but he stuck to his task and his battling qualities have given himself a realistic chance – albeit a slim one – of ending his nine year major hoodoo.
“I still don’t feel like my game is in great shape,” said McIlroy. “I’ve held it together well. I’ve held some good putts. I’ve scored well. I probably hit it a little better off the tee today than I did the first couple of days, but I think this tournament and especially in these conditions and on this golf course, the non-physical parts of the game I think are way more important this week than the physical parts of the game, and I think I’ve done those well, and that’s the reason that I’m in a decent position.”
The last time so many golfers disregarded their peaks they joined LIV. But snapback style caps were the fashion as the rain bucketed down in Rochester New York and McIlroy was no different.
Needing a good start to gain a footing in the round the four-time major winner got the crowd warmed up early with birdie twos on three and five with his driver behaving for the first time this week.
“I was just aiming it down one side of the hole and hitting driver and sort of just accepting that it probably will go in the rough, and if it I do hit it in the rough, I’ll — it’s funny, I was a little more accepting of the ball going in the rough today, and I actually hit more fairways because of it.
“Again, it just goes to show if you have a little more of a carefree attitude, it seems to work out a little bit better.”
Then came the difficult stretch on the front nine and McIlroy fell foul to it with three bogeys in four holes which on Sunday night might have cost him a fifth major title.
Errant iron shots out to the right proved costly, although he did well to salvage a bogey five on the sixth.
“So going into 6, mindset was don’t hit it in the water off the tee. And then second shot was don’t hit it in the water with my second shot, and I flared it out to the right a little bit. I ended up making a decent 5.
“7, after what happened yesterday with hitting a 3-iron and it running out into the creek, I just thought, bang it left with a driver, see what happens. 8, I got a little unfortunate with the lie off the tee. And then 9 again was just a poor second shot.
“It’s a really tough stretch of holes. I was a little disappointed to give three shots away in that stretch. Even one or two would have been okay.”
Now six shots behind and over-par for the day at plus one, McIlroy birdied 12 and 13 but failed to birdie the drivable 14th and settled for a par. Having driven right on 14 he leaked his approach to 15 but scrambled a herculean par to keep momentum on his side. A birdie on 16 was followed by a good bogey on 17 before he parred 18, puffed out the cheeks as he lived to fight another day.
“I came back nicely on the back nine with those three birdies, and to get it in in 2-under on the back nine was good.”
“My ability to just stick in there and show a little bit of grit and determination and not let rounds get away from me too much. I made a good save — two good putts for bogeys today on the 6th and 17th there.
“So just doing things like that, not letting the round really get away from you. That’s what I’ve done well this week.”
The world number three hoped the rain would keep pouring down so that the leading players might slip back a shot or two but given that he has got the maximum from his game this week he is satisfied with his position heading into the final day.
“I mean, look, I’d obviously like to be a couple of shots closer to the lead, but I think with how I’ve felt this week, if you had have told me on Thursday night that I’d be going into Sunday in the top five and with a realistic chance to win this golf tournament, I would have taken it.”
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