McIlroy right back in the picture at Oak Hill
Third round of 67 moves McIlroy to three under at US PGA Championship as leaders struggle
Rory McIlroy plays his tee shot on the fourth hole at Oak Hill. Photograph: Jeff Haynes/Reuters
The late, great Seve Ballesteros had a habit of making the impossible happen. On moving Saturday in the 95th edition of the US PGA championship here at Oak Hill, it was Rory McIlroy’s turn to imitate the old maestro in his own exuberant way: the bounce was back in the Ulsterman’s walk, the fist pump as strong as ever.
In conjuring up a wonderful birdie-birdie finish on the two toughest holes on the East Course, McIlroy leapfrogged his way into contention. His late deeds brought him a 67 for 207, three under par, that put him in a strong position to defend the title he won in a cakewalk at Kiawah Island a year ago.
Here, though, McIlroy has rediscovered how to contend. Once the rains cleared in Friday’s second round, the 24-year-old swung into action to finish with four birdies to breath some live into his defence. In the third round, he took things a step further with a finish plucked from the Ballesteros book on how to defy nature.
In typical fashion, McIlroy reserved his best for a grandstand finish: on the 17th, ranked the toughest hole of all throughout the championship, he produced a drive of over 300 yards and hit a five-iron approach to 45 feet. If the natural inclination was to lag and two-putt and escape with a par, his execution was rather better. From the moment the ball left the putter’s face, it seemed destined to find the bottom of the hole. It did.
The 18th produced one of those moments that make the Majors. McIlroy pulled his tee-shot into the trees on the left. When he got to his ball, he found it lying against one of four staked rubbish bags. After a word with the walking rules official, he was told to play it as it was, but that he was entitled to move the rubbish containers.
So it was that McIlroy started the job himself of lifting the bags, before four spectators came in and provided assistance. It was an odd sight to see the spectators holding the rubbish bags some five or six yards behind him. Undeterred, McIlroy fashioned a miracle shot. With 175 yards to the front, he held down a four-iron that stayed low under the tree branches and pitched on front of the green before running into the rough through the back. “I just tried to keep a four-iron down as much as I could and hit it as hard as I could,” he later observed.
What followed simply added to his legend, as he chipped into the hole for a seismic roar that was greeted with a powerful fist pump. McIlroy was well and truly back, and into the thick of this season’s final Major.
Going out, he had a round of 65 in his mind as the requirement to get back into things. However, the swirling wind made him change his mind. The third round 67 would do rather nicely. “Every time I’m in this position, I just think back to Quail Hollow (where he won the 2010 Wells Fargo) a few years ago and what I did the weekend there. It gives me a bit of confidence knowing that I’ve been in that position before and I’ve been able to win.
“I know this is a Major championship and it’s a bit different, but I felt good enough about my game that I could go out there and post a good one today and at least give myself a chance going into (the final round).”