Rory McIlroy Hacks, Gouges And Grinds His Way Into Contention At The US PGA Championship
After spending so much time in the rough and the fogs of self-doubt, Rory McIlroy has somehow hacked, gouged, grinded and putted his way into contention at the US PGA Championship.
There have been few tournaments in recent years where he has spent so long in a losing battle with his game and yet it has thrown up the whiff of a remarkable possibility with one round to play at Oak Hill.
He will resume business on Sunday at one-under-par and with a decent puff of wind in his sails owing to a 69, in which he finally showed traces of his better form.
Translating that into anything more meaningful remains an extremely difficult task – at the time of going to press, Corey Conners, Viktor Hovland, Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose were on the course and spread between six and three under – but it is astonishing McIlroy even has a chance, given it is force of will alone that propelled him for the first two-thirds of this major.
As recently as Friday he spoke of feeling ‘terrible’ over the ball, and that his weekend strategy would amount to blasting as far as he could off the tee, owing to his lack of trust in the accuracy of his driver. What transpired on Saturday was not quite so gung-ho, but it was far more effective, with an improved ratio of six fairways hit out of 14 and a number of clutch putts holed.
Rory McIlroy moved into contention during the third round at the US PGA Championship
McIlroy went out in the worst of the day’s rain storms and still carded an impressive 69
-5 Conners, Hovland
-2 Scheffler, Rose
E Block, Suh
+1 Lowry, Fleetwood
It might ultimately add up to little more than another backdoor entry to a strong placing at a major – flattering to deceive, if you prefer – but at least the numbers have been far more pleasing on the eye than the swings.
‘It hasn’t been great,’ McIlroy said. ‘I can play a lot better. Even today, 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. 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. A little more of a carefree attitude seems to work out a little bit better.
‘I’d obviously like to be a couple of shots closer to the lead, but with how I’ve felt this week, if you had 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.’
Playing in the worst of the day’s rain storms, the world No 3 birdied the third and fifth holes to get to two under for the championship, before saving a bogey at six with a seven-footer. He rescued 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, he appeared to have lost his momentum, but three birdies in five holes from the 12th brought the Northern Irishman to two under. As crucial as the strokes gained in 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 with his third, but again he was able to limit the bleeding by getting up and down for a difficult bogey. A similar recovery was needed from greenside rough for par at the last. His second straight round of 69 was hard earned, though that has been a given on a course that has been brutally tough all week.
Hovland and Conners have done a fine job in mitigating those challenges – the overnight leaders each made a single stroke of progress to get to six under through 14 – while Koepka, who came so close at The Masters, is again carrying the look of a big-game hunter.
Brooks Koepka takes a one-shot lead into Sunday’s final round of the US PGA Championship
The four-time major winner was five under after 16 holes, three better off than Rose, who had one still to play. Also on three under was Bryson DeChambeau, who had been booed on to the first tee, as was Koepka, presumably because of their defection to the LIV circuit.
Having a far worse time than that cohort world No 1 Jon Rahm. It is a rare thing to see the Spaniard struggle, but his third-round 72 left him a long way off the pace at six over and his temper reflected the situation.
The first of two meltdowns came at the fifth hole, when he mishit 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’s anger resurfaced when he sliced his drive right and over a fence. During his search for the lost ball, he grew irate at a nearby camera crew, telling them: ‘Stop aiming at my face when I’m mad.’