Rory McIlroy sets gripping scene for final day of US Open
There was a lovely moment of light relief during Rory McIlroy's press briefing at Pebble Beach.
Rory McIlroy had just carded his third under-par round of the US Open but, sitting on -6, he was still five shots off Gary Woodland in the lead.
Woodland (69) and Justin Rose (68) were some of the best performers on the day while reigning champion Brooks Koepka (-7) had moved into ominous view with a bogey-free round of 67.
Pebble Beach can do bad things to even the very best's scorecards. Back in 2010, Graeme McDowell won the US Open here after a four-round total of level par.
Even on Saturday, the Californian links course chewed up a couple of good golfers and spat them out. Aaron Wise started his day on -5 and ended up on +3 after a gut-wrenching 79. Former Major winner Zach Johnson also carded a 79.
For the most part, though, the leading players were able to negotiate the course under par. Woodland is -11 and Rose is just a shot back. McIlroy was asked what would he say to golf fans that say the course is playing too easy? The four-time Major winner quickly replied:
"Come play it yourself!"
Saturday would have left McIlroy feeling frustrated. He gave himself good looks at about nine decent birdie attempts - between 10 and 15 feet - and only three dropped.
The first seven holes of the course are the easiest - and so the scoring over the first three days have proved - but McIlroy remained where he started, on -5. He bogeyed the first and got that shot back on the sixth but forward momentum was proving hard.
As Woodland, Rose, Koepka and playing partner Chaz Reavie all had highlight reel birdies and saves, McIlroy had to wait until the 15th to go under par for the day. He birdied 15 with a class putt.
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 16, 2019
He gave that shot back on the par-three 17th before finishing his day on a high. He smoked a three wood off the 18th tee and found the green with his second on the par-five closer, giving himself a makeable eagle putt.
Only 40 minutes beforehand, Graeme McDowell (-4) had rolled in a 35-foot eagle putt to stoke up the crowds. McIlroy could not match that feat but at least got the birdie that gave him hope going into the final day.
Woodland could not add to the -11 high point that he reached on the 11th hole so he did not get too far away from the chasing pack. Asked if he needed a fast start, Rory McIlroy set the scene:
"Yeah, but you can't put yourself under pressure to have a crack at those holes, either. You've just got to let it happen.
"There's going to be a few decisions to be made. I would expect the pin to be at the back of the green. Do you have a crack at that? Do you not? I'm still going to have to play the holes pretty much the same.
"But whether you can take that aim and try to get it, it will really just depend. Those first seven holes you can get some momentum going and you can play them in 3 or 4 under, and that's where the real meat of the golf course starts.
"I'm going to take it as it comes. Yes, I'd love to play those holes in a few under and get myself right in the thick of things, but I can't put myself under pressure to do that because it's just... you've just got to let it happen."
Shane Lowry, meanwhile, is slowly getting the hang of Pebble Beach. After shooting an opening round of 75, the Offaly native hit 69 and then 70 to lie on +1 (tied 33rd) just a shot back from former world number one(s) Tiger Woods and Jason Day.