Rory McIlroy overcame a sluggish start to keep himself in contention with a two-under 70 in Saturday's third round of the 2019 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
McIlroy, who stands at 14 under through 54 holes, opened with back-to-back bogeys after entering the day tied with Tommy Fleetwood atop the leaderboard. He recovered nicely to stay within one stroke of leader Jon Rahm heading into Sunday.
The four-time major champion is seeking his first win in 2019 despite five straight top-six finishes.
For a player who has struggled to get over the hump on weekends this season, a couple of quick bogeys surely wasn't the way McIlroy envisioned starting Round 3.
That's why his birdie putt on the par-three third hole from just under 14 feet was probably his most important shot of the day. Not only did it allow him to get one stroke back right away, but it helped him shake off the negative vibes before the round, and potentially his title chances, could slip away.
McIlroy was forced to grind out pars for most of the day because he struggled off the tee. He found just 28.6 percent of the fairways after topping 70 percent in each of the first two rounds.
Those driving woes make his ability to stay firmly in the mix even more impressive. His iron play was the X-factor as he still managed to find 72.2 percent of the greens in regulation while playing most of his second shots from the rough.
In all, he tallied four birdies and no bogeys from the third hole on.
McIlroy has done a good job of avoiding setbacks throughout the week with only three bogeys so far, including a clean scorecard Thursday. So the key Sunday will be more consistent work with the driver to create birdie chances rather than having to fight to save par.
If he can get his fairway percentage back over 70, there's a good chance he'll finally get back in the win column after knocking on the door all season. His last PGA Tour victory came at the Arnold Palmer Invitational almost exactly one year ago.