Rory McIlroy bogeyed his last two holes for a third round 69 and confessed he’s still searching for confidence in his driving - the key to his entire game.
The world No 3 will go into the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational 15 shots behind runaway leader Tiger Woods after another poor day off the tee.
“It’s hard to make a good score when you are not hitting it in the fairway,” said McIlroy, who is ranked 71st in the 73-strong field for driving accuracy. “I sort of got the most out of my round, even though I bogeyed the last two holes. Ball-striking wise, a 69 wasn’t too bad.”
McIlroy finished fifth at Firestone last year and went on to win the US PGA by eight shots. But this year he admits that he’s not quite at that level.
“[I’m] a little bit [short of where I was last year.] I am definitely not hitting the ball as well as I would like. If I can drive the ball in the fairway, it makes things a lot easier. I am not doing that at the moment and it is something I need to fix.”
Insisting he had a better knowledge of his swing than before, he said: “I have put in a lot of work for the past couple of weeks but I definitely feel things are going in the right direction.
“Once I get my long game back on track, I feel like my short game is exactly where it needs to be. If I can start hitting some fairways, hopefully I can challenge for some tournaments.”
Woods followed his second round 61 with a two under 68 to lead by seven shots in his quest for an eight title at Firestone from Sweden’s Henrik Stenson on 15 under par with McIlroy tied for 17th on even par.
Graeme McDowell posted a third successive 71 to share 36th on three over while Shane Lowry had an eagle three, three birdies, three bogey and a double bogey seven in a level par 70 that left him joint 57th on eight over.
Having three putted three times on Friday, Lowry was better on the greens yesterday but languishes at 64th in the field for scrambling because of his struggles with the putter.
On a positive note, his 70 was the first time he has matched par in six competitive rounds at Firestone having finished 77th on 20 over on his debut in 2009.
Stenson, meanwhile, signed for a three under par 67 at Firestone Country Club to move into second place, some seven shots back from Woods, who reached 15 under par with a 68.
Englishman Chris Wood is also among those hunting down the 14-time Major winner, lying nine shots back in tied fourth after a 70, alongside his compatriot Luke Donald, who birdied the last for a 68.
Stenson is relishing the challenge of overhauling Woods, but was realistic about his chances given the World Number One’s record of seven wins in 13 appearances in this event.
“It’s kind of tough to pick up seven or eight shots on Tiger around here,” said Stenson. “It would take something spectacular on my behalf or any of the other guys around me, and obviously a very, very poor round for him. I’m just going to try to play my game, and I’m excited to go out and play with him tomorrow.”
Wood played in the same group as Woods, the player he idolised growing up, and was delighted with the way he handled an intimidating situation.
“It was a totally new experience for me – the noise on the first tee,” said the Bristol man. “When he chipped in on 13, I’ve never heard a noise quite so loud on the golf course. But I loved every minute. We chatted away a little bit, and after three or four holes I felt a lot more settled than I thought I might.
“I want to finish as near as I can to him, really, because that’s probably going to be second. And that’ll do a lot for me. I’m here to try to break into the top 50 in the world, and I’ve got a good chance tomorrow.
“I need to go out there with the same sort of mindset as I had today. It was a big test for me today, so I feel like I did okay.”
Miguel Angel Jiménez moved up to tied seventh with a brilliant 65, while Masters Tournament winner Adam Scott also jumped up the leaderboard, sharing ninth place after a 66.