Rory McIlroy put himself in a great position to win his second U.S. Open and first major championship since 2014 with a third-round 67 on Saturday at Torrey Pines that moved the four-time major winner to 3 under for the championship. That 4-under round was tied for the best of the day with Paul Casey, who sits at even par for the championship after his 67.
McIlroy nearly played his way out of contention on Friday with seven bogeys during a second-round 73, but he had things dialed in on moving day particularly on his approach shots. The steady par train of No. 3 through No. 9 showed a return to form that was missing on Friday. He hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation as compared to 10 of 18 the day before, and even though birdie putts weren't dropping after No. 2, the bogey avoidance helped set up what was to come after the turn.
McIlroy rolled off three birdies in four holes to start the back nine, first hitting his approach shot to five feet for an easy birdie on No. 10. He went on to par No. 11 and then on No. 12 had the kind of hole that can get be a pivotal one in holding together a good round. McIlroy was off on his drive, short on his approach and then stepped with a brilliant chip-in for birdie.
It was one of several times that McIlroy has benefited from a short game around the green that has helped keep this championship contention together.
The par-5 13th was a popular birdie hole today and Rory was among the many who cashed, but few others came as close to dunking it on their second shot while going for the green in two. McIlroy's shot hit the flag and the ball spun sideways, leaving him quite a bit of work to do for eagle but a manageable birdie.
It was all roses for McIlroy with a wayward drive on No. 15 costing him the chance to turn in a bogey-free round, but he got the stroke back at No. 18 again driving the green in two to set up an easy birdie and close out the 4-under 67.
McIlroy said after the round that it will require a much different path to winning than when he cruised to an eight stroke win at Congressional Country Club in 2011. Now here 10 years later with a chance to not only get his second U.S. Open trophy but snap a major championship drought that dates back to 2014, McIlroy is focusing on the mental side of winning.
"Really good golf. Really solid play, some mental fortitude," McIlroy told NBC when asked what it's going to take to win on Sunday. "It's the most demanding golf tournament in the world mentally, and you have to keep your wits about yourself and really stay in the present, stay in the moment. Even when I was doing well today, I really had to remind myself of that. You know 2011 felt like a walk in the park compared to this. If I'm going to get another U.S. Open trophy, I'm going to have to fight for it more than I did 10 years ago."
According to the Justin Ray, 58 of the last 60 U.S. Open winners were at or within four strokes of the lead entering the final round. If McIlroy was going to have a chance at ending his seven-year major championship drought here at Torrey Pines, he needed to make this kind of move to get inside that four-stroke window.