Rory McIlroy needs an extraordinary final round if he's to successfully defend the Emirates Australian Open in Sydney. Even taking into account the incredible feats performed by the Co Down man this year, it would take something very special for him to get out of jail this time.
A triple bogey-double bogey run at the ninth and 10th in testing conditions at The Australian Golf Club — reminsicent of the back to back doubles in round threee that cost him the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai last week — led to a five over 76 for the four time major winner.
The world No 1, who has insisted all week that there's "a low one out there", is now tied for 14th on one-over par and a daunting six shots behind a trio of leaders in Greg Chalmers (71), Brett Rumford (69) and American Jordan Spieth (69). Scores
“It was a tough day obviously,” McIlroy said. “The wind was up. I was doing okay, steady enough, until I got to the ninth. I hit a wayward tee-shot into what I thought was a decent enough lie that I could advance the ball.
"But I didn’t realise what I was standing on is not like dirt or earth. It was more like carpet. So the ball went underneath the carpet. Had it been a normal surface it would have been alright, but down there it was impossible.
“So that added up to a seven. Then I did what I did last week in Dubai and compounded that error with another just about as bad. I got a huge flier with a wedge. The ball pitched at 160 yards into the wind which is ridiculous. Over the last few holes I was just trying to hang on really.
“I need a fast start tomorrow to have a chance. It depends too on what the guys ahead of me do. I need some help. But the greens have been firmer every day.
"So a low score is higher than it was. I still feel like I can shoot a good one. I just don’t know if that will be enough. I’ll be trying my best. It’s the last round of the season so it would be nice to make it a good one.”
McIlroy's biggest problem is the number of players ahead of him but Adam Scott (69), tied for fourth alongside Rod Pampling (69) and just one stroke off the pace, reckons it will be a fraught final day.
With 23 players within six shots of the leaders, Scott said: “In these conditions, it’s going to take an incredible round just to make sure you’re in with a chance the last few holes.
“You probably saw it slipped pretty quickly for a few guys out there today and, if you’re not careful, that can happen and I certainly don’t want to do that.
“So it will be a thinking hat on right from the first tee.”
McIlroy made too many mistakes in that department on a day that required more guile and patience than flair and talent.
Hard and fast conditions have never been his forte, even if he has had some success.
As Scott explained: "It's hard to get it close and the greens are very firm and when the pins are tight, like they were pretty much all day, it's very difficult to get it inside that 10-foot range where you're expected to make it a lot.
"If you're playing good, you've got to take your chances and then you can separate [from the field], but around here that's not easy."
McIlroy came back from four behind to beat Scott in the final round at Royal Sydney last year but given the conditions, the deficit and the quality of some of the players ahead of him, the Holywood star may have to settle for the minor placings this time.