Out in 40 and back in 30, Rory McIlroy showed just why his 2016 season has been a rollercoaster of emotions and, so far, more disappointments than joys.
Yes, the won the Irish Open thanks to the kind of brilliance he showed on the back nine at Le Golf National, where he goes into the final round two shots behind Thai veteran Thongchai Jaidee.
McIlroy looked to have blown his chances of victory with a front nine of 40 but the accuracy and focus that was missing over the opening holes — he began with a double bogey six, took six at the par-five third and followed a birdie at the fourth with bogeys at the seventh and eighth — he rectified with five birdies in seven holes in an immaculate back nine performance.
Eight strokes off the lead at one stage, his birdie two at the 11th was huge turning point and from there he was able to get his teeth into the round and the birdies followed.
“It was a great finish,” McIlroy said. “Any time you can shoot five under on the back nine here at Le Golf National, it's a really good score.
"It was a shame I had to do that to get myself back into the tournament, but I guess it just shows you the toughness of this golf course at times, and especially combine that with just missing a few fairways and not really getting any momentum; to come back the way I did on the back nine, I think it was just more resilience than anything else.
“I knew over the last couple of days, I've hit enough good shots to know that I can give myself chances for birdies and I can make some birdies, so I knew it was possible.
"I just needed to find a spark or get something going, and I think the birdie on 11 was big. I missed one on 10, so birdie on 11 and I felt like I played some really good golf after that.”
Still working on his swing and his grip, the round was a reflection of McIlroy’s comfort level.
“You saw two ends of the spectrum there,” he said. “There was the front nine where there was nothing fluid at all about what I was doing, and then the back nine when I started to get some confidence is when the opposite way it went; it went the best way it could.
"I guess it just shows a little bit of the fragile state of my game at the minute. The good's really good and the bad's — you know, it's pretty bad. If I can just concentrate on the good stuff tonight and try and replicate that back nine through the whole 18 tomorrow, I should be okay.”
Jaidee carded the only bogey-free round of the day with a 68 that moved him to eight under and two clear of McIlroy and Korea’s Jeunghun Wang, who went out in 32 but struggled home in 38.
All three men came into the day with a share of the lead at five under but Wang had opened up a four-shot cushion after seven holes while McIlroy looked lost for nine holes as he turned in four over to lie eight behind him.
The Northern Irishman, who is making significant swing changes, then flicked the switch and produced the kind of scintillating form which makes him irresistible to watch as roared home in five under to sign for a 70, while Wang made three bogeys on his way home.
“I knew what was going on,” McIlroy said. "Especially when Wang was 4-under through the first seven holes. I was like, he's playing a different golf course than I am.
“I thought if I could get back to even par for the day; that was my goal after nine holes, and I did one better than that, so I’m obviously very pleased."
Jaidee made birdies on the sixth, seventh and 11th with the minimum of fuss as he searches for an eighth European Tour title.
“I had a very good game plan today,” Jaidee said. "My caddie and were talking all the way round, concentrating on every shot. I hit a lot of fairways today and made a couple of great long outs which helped the score a lot.
"I was very positive today and I need to do the same tomorrow because the course can be so tough, especially if the conditions stay the same because we are playing in a really tough wind and the course is set up really tough.”
Defending champion Bernd Wiesberger was at five under, two shots clear of Martin Kaymer, Joost Luiten, Alex Noren, Brandon Stone and Andy Sullivan who produced a magnificent moment on the 18th as he holed his six-iron approach to the packed 18th green to send the huge crowds wild.
“We had 186 and my caddie gave me a seven iron to start with,” Sullivan said. "I thought it was a little down, and said no, it's off left, and hit a high soft six. It landed perfectly and then the noise was incredible around 18. It's a nice way to finish after a few errant holes a couple holes before.
“I thought if I hung in there today, maybe shot one or two under, I was always going to have a chance. I feel like the way I’m playing, the last few weeks have not been brilliant results but I've been playing good.
"This week the putter's warmed up a little bit and still feel like I'm playing quite well. I know what I’m capable of and I know I can go out there and shoot a number tomorrow and get myself up the leaderboard.”
Pádraig Harrington fell 21 spots to tied 54th on seven over when he started and finished with double bogey sixes for a 77 that featured 34 putts.
Open de France, Le Golf National (Par 71)
205 T Jaidee (Tha) 67 70 68,
207 Rory McIlroy (Nir) 71 66 70, J Wang (Kor) 71 66 70,
208 B Wiesberger (Aut) 67 71 70,
210 M Kaymer (Ger) 74 68 68, A Sullivan (Eng) 69 70 71, J Luiten (Ned) 69 70 71, A Noren (Swe) 72 68 70, B Stone (RSA) 69 68 73,
211 F Molinari (Ita) 68 71 72, L Westwood (Eng) 74 70 67, N Colsaerts (Bel) 70 68 73,
212 M Ilonen (Fin) 69 68 75, A Hansen (Den) 70 68 74, M Southgate (Eng) 70 70 72, R Cabrera Bello (Esp) 73 69 70,
213 R Dinwiddie (Eng) 71 71 71, T Pieters (Bel) 67 72 74, J Carlsson (Swe) 71 70 72, M Decottignies-Lafon (Fra) 68 73 72, L Jensen (Den) 69 71 73,
214 C Shinkwin (Eng) 71 72 71, J Campillo (Esp) 73 71 70, R Wattel (Fra) 69 76 69, T Merritt (USA) 70 75 69, J Quesne (Fra) 70 73 71, E De La Riva (Esp) 70 72 72, R Sterne (RSA) 76 68 70,
215 G Havret (Fra) 72 70 73, A Levy (Fra) 72 69 74, T Fisher Jnr (RSA) 71 71 73, G Boyd (Eng) 71 73 71, A Otaegui (Esp) 67 76 72, C Wood (Eng) 70 73 72, T Detry (Bel) 72 69 74, R Gouveia (Por) 73 71 71,
216 S Khan (Eng) 73 68 75, D Im (USA) 72 71 73, C Sordet (Fra) 73 71 72, E Molinari (Ita) 68 73 75, T Hatton (Eng) 73 71 72, C Paisley (Eng) 72 71 73, L Bjerregaard (Den) 66 74 76,
217 A Saddier (Fra) 70 70 77, R Langasque (Fra) 72 71 74, R Fisher (Eng) 73 72 72, F Zanotti (Par) 72 72 73, L Donald (Eng) 73 71 73,
218 M Siem (Ger) 71 70 77, G Bourdy (Fra) 69 75 74, M Carlsson (Swe) 70 75 73,
219 E Pepperell (Eng) 71 74 74, J Parry (Eng) 72 72 75,
220 Pádraig Harrington (Irl) 73 70 77, J Walters (RSA) 71 72 77, C Hanson (Eng) 68 75 77,
221 R Karlsson (Swe) 72 73 76, J Van Zyl (RSA) 71 71 79, S Hend (Aus) 73 69 79, A Wall (Eng) 74 70 77,
222 T Bjørn (Den) 74 70 78, R McEvoy (Eng) 75 70 77, C Farrelly (Eng) 75 70 77
223 O Wilson (Eng) 72 72 79, M Warren (Sco) 74 70 79,
227 V Dubuisson (Fra) 71 73 82.