Rory McIlroy began his third round hours earlier than he had hoped after back-to-back 70s left him 11 shots behind halfway leader Louis Oosthuizen, but he revived his hopes of a late-afternoon tee time on Sunday with his best performance of the week over the first nine holes.
Although the 2014 champion carded five birdies against one mistake at the fifth in an outward 31 that lifted him to four under for the Championship, but he lost his way after the turn and gave shots back at 11 and 13, and he was unable to contain his anger after he pulled his tee shot into the left rough at the long 14th.
However McIlroy did escape with a par-five only to suffer another mishap on the 15th green, where his short putt for par circled around the lip and stayed out, and three closing pars at least secured his first sub-70 score of the tournament.
After signing for a 69, completing his third round almost an hour before the final pairing of Oosthuizen and Collin Morikawa teed off, McIlroy told the media: “Sort of a tale of two nines. I played great on the front nine, hit some really good iron shots and converted some putts and really got it going.
“Then the back nine played tough. They’re sort of tucking the pins away. They’ve stretched the golf course out to as long as it can play. I was hitting two-iron into the 11th hole, that par-3, and that was sort of it – I missed a short putt there for par and it kind of killed the momentum I had.
“Not birdieing the par-five [14th] and making another couple bogeys on the way in, certainly it felt like a better round than one under par, but it was encouraging to see some of the golf that I played on that front nine.
“It’s just a matter of trying to keep that going and try to turn those nine-hole stretches into 18-hole stretches, and then those 18-hole stretches into whole tournaments. It’s getting there.”