Rory's Roller Coaster Saturday Keeps Him in the Mix
Rory McIlroy’s scorecard looked comparable to a kindergarteners’ workbook on Saturday. Plenty of shapes.
But the good news is that there were more circles than squares, and through 54 holes McIlroy is in the mix for the opportunity to win a third Wanamaker Trophy after a 1-under 69 on Saturday.
“With how I've felt this week, if you 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,” said McIlroy, who admitted he was under the weather after Thursday’s opener.
If McIlroy is able to convert the win Sunday, he’d become the just the sixth man in history to win more than two PGA Championships. Although he’ll be about a few shots back of the lead, the precedent was set just a year ago with Justin Thomas that comebacks at the PGA Championship are in the cards.
“I need to keep hope,” McIlroy said. “I have to believe that there is a score like (65) out there because looking at the board, it's probably a score I'm going to have to shoot something like that to have a chance to win.”
A winner already on the PGA TOUR this season, although it came last fall, McIlroy missed the cut at both The Players Championship and the Masters and decided to take some time away from the tour to mentally re-set before coming to Oak Hill Country Club.
He’s got plenty of connections to the area, with his wife Erica being from here and Oak Hill bestowing him with an honorary membership. There was a lot on his plate early in the week, however, (not a garbage plate, either, although he said he’s had one in his life) with introductions to Buffalo Bills Josh Allen and Von Miller and the weight of a hometown-by-association major on his shoulders.
McIlroy was 1 over after Thursday but got it back to even after a 1-under 69 on Friday. In the pouring rain and with a backward hat on Saturday, McIlroy made birdies on Nos. 3 and 5 before limping in with three bogeys in four holes before making the turn.
However, McIlroy rallied with birdies on Nos. 12, 13, and 16 on the back nine – each of the birdies coming thanks to putts of less than seven feet.
It was never going to be easy coming in, and despite scrambling for bogey on No. 17, McIlroy stayed in red figures after three rounds. There were only eight golfers under par, including McIlroy, when he wrapped up his day.
McIlroy was struggling with the driver through 36 holes and came into Saturday with a new plan to just tee it high and let it fly. That plan was quashed slightly, due to Mother Nature, but McIlroy had a bit of a premonition for how the third round was going to go after Friday.
“When I holed that putt at the last I looked at the board and I thought. ‘I can’t believe I’m five back,’” McIlroy said Friday night. “I guess it’s a good thing because I know if I can get it in play off the tee, that’s the key to my success over the weekend.”
While McIlroy was 112th in strokes gained: off the tee in the second round, he catapulted himself all the up to fifth in the same statistic on Saturday – and it happened for a laugh-out-loud reason.
“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,” McIlroy said. “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.”
But while McIlroy has admitted he’s needed to get over a few mental hurdles of late – golf’s a hard game, after all – he’s been chuffed with his effort between the ears through three rounds. Now it’s time to try to take this championship across the finish line.
“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,” McIlroy said, “and that’s the reason that I’m in a decent position.”