Rory McIlroy might be five shots behind Steve Stricker but he still believes he has an outside chance of victory entering tonight’s final round of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village.
The Ulster star turned an average round into an acceptable one in boiling conditions in Dublin, Ohio, when he birdied the 13th and then eagled the par-five 15th en route to a one under par 71.
Thanks to a couple of late bogeys by Stricker, who was six ahead of the field and nine clear of McIlroy after two early eagles, the tournament is now wide open again.
The American’s 69 left gave him a three-shot lead over impressive Jonathan Byrd on 12 under par with Matt Kuchar and Brandt Jobe just four behind.
McIlroy shares fifth place with Mark Wilson and Shaun Micheel on seven under but if he is to produce the low round he needs to put pressure on Stricker, he knows he must produce a “clean” round for the first time this week.
And that means remaining mentally disciplined, which is an aspect of his game that has pleased him so far at the course that Jack built.
“Even though I didn’t play my best stuff today, I’m still in a decent position going into tomorrow and that’s all you can ask for,” said McIlroy, who is tied for 10th for putting so far with an average of 26.7 putts per round.
“I feel this week mentally I’ve been pretty good. I only hit 11 greens today, I think I only hit 12 yesterday. That’s not like me, so to be able to have my short game in good shape and be able to make pars when I need to and convert a few of the chances that I have.”
Whatever happens in the fina round, McIlroy is getting a decent work out for the US Open in 11 days’ time and the stiffer challenges he will face at Congressional Country Club near Washington DC, especially off the tee.
“I don’t think the fairways will be quite as generous at Congressional as they are here,” said McIlroy who hit just six drivers in round three. “I think Congressional is going to be a little tougher. But with the rough and the heat and stuff, I’m sure it’ll be pretty similar.”
Tied for 23rd in driving accuracy, McIlroy mixed drivers with three irons and fairway metals, which will stand him in good stead for his third US Open appearance.
Capable of hitting his favourite three-wood more than 290 yards, he knows that he will have a vital weapon in the bag at Congressional.
As for victory at Muirfield Village, he’s likely to need a round in the mid sixties or plenty of help from Stricker to pull that off.
The mental work out is far more important and McIlroy knows that he can make up ground by good decision making, which was an element of his game that let him down during that fateful final round at Augusta National in April.
“I think you need to pick the right time to be aggressive,” he said of his strategy. “I’m conservative on some holes, but you just really need to pick the right time and select the right pin positions where you can get aggressive with it and go for it.”