Rory McIlroy hailed Jordan Spieth as “an absolute stud” and “great for the game” but insisted he’d be gunning for the Texan and the rest of world golf in next month's US PGA
The Holywood star got to within four strokes of Spieth and Matt Kuchar with five holes to play, but while he ended the week seven shots behind in a share of fourth with Rafa Cabrera Bello after a 67, he believes he can get back to his best at Quail Hollow in three weeks' time and end his three-year wait for a major win.
If he does it, he will prevent Spieth becoming the youngest player to complete the career Grand Slam
Speaking just as Spieth began his birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie run for the title, McIlroy said: “He’s a fighter, he’s shown that the whole way through his short career.
"He can dig himself out of these holes. And I think it will be fun to watch coming in.
"But it would be great for the game if he does it. He's an absolute stud and it would be great to see him win another one."
The US PGA is now unmissable and McIlroy, who has two wins and four top 10s in seven appearances at Quail Hollow, including a playoff defeat, is up for the challenge.
After seeing signs of improvement in his game after missing three of his previous four cuts, McIlroy said: "The PGA is only three weeks away. So I'm happy that's coming quite quickly on the back of this.
"The game is in much better shape than it was heading into this week, so I'm happy with that.
"It's hard whenever you feel like you've had a chance to win a major and you're not quite there, so it's disappointing.
"But at the same time I have to take the positives. And I'm looking forward to the next few weeks."
McIlroy was nine shots behind Spieth starting the day but could only par the first eight holes.
Birdies at the ninth and 11th got him within four of the lead as a faltering Spieth was joined in the lead by Kuchar on eight under par
After missing an 18 footer for birdie at the 14th, McIlroy lost ball off the tee at the par-five 15th and made bogey to fall three behind clubhouse leader Li Haotong of China, who shot 63 to set the target at six under.
McIlroy was not quite ready to throw in the towel and eagled the 17th from 15 feet to get to five under before a poor drive and bunkered approach forced him to settle for a par at the last.
Left to regret his poor start on Thursday, when he was five over par after six holes, he said: "I wish I could have had that start back, obviously.
“But these things happen and I'm just proud of how I held it together and battled.
"I feel like with the way my game is I'll definitely have a great chance at Akron and the PGA.
"I got within four at one point. Playing 14, playing 13, 14. So I felt with the two par-5s coming up, I thought I had a chance to post a number, and at least scare them a little bit."
If he fails to win the US PGA, McIlroy will have gone three years without winning a major win, but he's not pushing any panic buttons.
"One year, one major feels like too long," he said. "But these things happen. You look at Jack Nicklaus; he went through a stretch where he didn't win a major in three years.
"I'm not comparing myself to Jack. It's hard to win them. It's very hard. It's the reason especially in this generation, excluding Tiger, no one's got above five. So it's tough to win them.
"We have 20- or 30-year window of where we can. And I got off to a great start in my career. But, as I said, I've still got 15, 20 more years to add to that tally.
"But, yeah, look, I feel like three years has been too long. But at the same time, I'm not going to rush it, I'm not going to stay impatient. I'm going to play my game.
“And hopefully my chance arrives at some point and I'm able to take it."