Rory McIlroy averted disaster on Saturday in the third round of the 2014 U.S. Open. After a dreadful front nine, he recovered on the back to finish with a four-over for the round, bringing his score to three-over for the tournament. When he headed into the clubhouse, he was in a tie for 16th.
The 2011 U.S. Open champion has built a reputation for wilting once the weekend rolls around, and his start to Day 3 only enforced that narrative.
Heading into the round, McIlroy had been solid if unspectacular in Rounds 1 and 2. He carded a one-over 71 on Thursday and followed up with a two-under 68 on Friday.
Speaking after Day 1, McIlroy sounded like a golfer content to remain patient and let those around him fall. That might not be the kind of attitude necessary to win the U.S. Open this year, but it would certainly help him move up the leaderboard. With the pace that Martin Kaymer has set, it would be nearly impossible to catch the leader.
So how did he build upon his momentum from Friday? With four bogeys on his first six holes, of course.
McIlroy began his day with a par on No. 1, but that was one of his few moments of respite on the front nine.
He really had trouble with the long par fours early in the round, bogeying each of the holes—Nos. 2, 4 and 5—that were 500-plus yards on the front nine. It wasn't because he was driving the ball poorly, either. McIlroy's approach play and putting were really letting him down.
Some of it was simply down to bad luck, though. The Guardian's Ewan Murray highlighted an instance on the par-three sixth hole during which McIlroy hit a good shot off the tee, only to watch it slip right off the green. McIlroy bogeyed the hole:
Course verging on silly in places. Nothing wrong with McIlroy tee shot into 6- rolls through back.— Ewan Murray (@mrewanmurray) June 14, 2014
When stuff like that is happening, you can only throw your arms up and curse the golf gods. But that's what kind of day it was for McIlroy. He showed signs of promise, and then everything went wrong again.
Perhaps it was something to do with Northern Ireland because Graeme McDowell had an even worse day, per the Irish Independent:
Graeme McDowell has finished his third round at the #USOpen, dropping five shots to move to +7. Rory McIlroy at +4 thru 9 holes— Independent Sport (@IndoSport) June 14, 2014
The front nine was one to forget for both golfers, as McDowell boasted five bogeys of his own.
McIlroy finished the front nine with a five-over 40. Although 2014 for the most part has been very good for him, he's had his fair share of awful stretches. GolfChannel.com's Justin Ray found that he has posted a 40 or worse over nine holes on six occasions this year:
Rory McIlroy's front nine 40 today was his 6th 9-hole score of 40 or more in 2014.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) June 14, 2014
On the plus side, McIlroy's struggles meant that the pairing between he and Garth Mulroy got closer and closer to a final-round pairing:
We have a really good shot at FINALLY landing that McIlroy-Mulroy grouping on Sunday. Rory is +2, Garth is +3.— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) June 14, 2014
Give credit where credit is due, though. McIlroy could've easily melted down after his atrocious performance on the first nine holes. Instead, he regained his composure and consistency that he had shown in the previous two days.
The Northern Irishman birdied the 10th and 13th to get back to two over, but a bogey on the 14th hole knocked him back down again. McIlroy finished his day with pars on his final four holes.
His third-round performance was largely on par—no pun intended—with Rounds 1 and 2.
According to USOpen.com, he hit 10-of-14 fairways but only 10-of-18 greens. The latter number has been steadily declining throughout the tournament, from 14 on Thursday to 12 on Friday and then 10 on Saturday.
His putting also remained erratic. McIlroy needed 32 putts in Round 3, which averaged out to 1.78 a hole, 0.09 more than the field average.
Much has been made of how the breaking off of his engagement with Caroline Wozniacki would affect his play. Bleacher Report's Lindsay Gibbs thought that the coverage of how the two stars each handled the event has been a bit hypocritical:
Rory McIlroy is having a terrible day and nobody is blaming it on his emotional fragility. It’s almost like there’s a double standard.— Lindsay Gibbs (@linzsports) June 14, 2014
It's unlikely that that had much to do with McIlroy's performance. He simply didn't have it on Saturday.
As stated earlier, overtaking Kaymer for the lead by the end of Round 3 would've taken the kind of shot-making that isn't possible at Pinehurst this year. However, McIlroy could've at least cracked the top 10 and put himself in a position for a hefty payday.
Maybe he can still recover to save some face in the final round. Until he sorts out his putting, though, he won't be going anywhere.