Rory McIlroy came into the U.S. Open so focused on snapping a nine-year major drought that he cancelled his pre-tournament media availability, and few could argue with the decision given he will start the final round one shot off the lead.
By skipping out on the press conference, McIlroy managed to avoid discussing not only his barren run in the majors but also the PGA Tour’s controversial deal with LIV Golf’s Saudi backers, which he has already spoken about at great length.
With a clear mind, the world number three has looked plenty comfortable at Los Angeles Country Club and mostly stuck to his plan to stay patient and use other weapons in his arsenal, rather than constantly pressing matters with his driver.
“Felt like I played really smart, solid golf. Hit a lot of fairways, hit a lot of greens,” McIlroy said. “Sort of felt somewhat stress-free out there, if you can ever call golf at a U.S. Open stress-free.”
McIlroy, who celebrated the last of his four major titles at the 2014 PGA Championship, carded a one-under-par 69 on Saturday to reach nine under on the week, leaving him in third place and one shot back of co-leaders Rickie Fowler and Wyndham Clark.
This week marks the fifth time McIlroy has opened a major championship with three rounds in the 60s. He went on to win on three of the previous four occasions.
The 34-year-old Northern Irishman began the third round two shots back of halfway leader Fowler and made a move early with two quick birdies before a bogey at the par-three fourth, where he missed the green, slowed his charge.
McIlroy was cruising along with a string of pars until a bogey at the 13th, but he responded with a bounceback birdie at the 14th to get back into red figures for the round.
“Overall, yeah, pretty pleased with how today went, and feel like I’m in a good spot heading into tomorrow,” said McIlroy.
In the year’s first two majors, McIlroy missed the cut at the Masters and then finished in a share of seventh place at the PGA Championship.
Now McIlroy will go out in Sunday’s penultimate pairing alongside world number one Scottie Scheffler, hoping to finally put an end to all the talk about when he will collect his next major title.
While plenty confident in his ability, McIlroy admitted he was unsure what sort of boost he could take from his past major triumphs into Sunday’s final round.
“I don’t know. It’s been such a long time since I’ve done it,” said McIlroy, who with a win on Sunday would become the 21st player with five or more major wins.
“I’m going out there to try to execute a game plan, and I feel like over the last three days I’ve executed that game plan really, really well, and I just need to do that for one more day.”