Rory McIlroy leaves us all in the ditch after another wild ride
What a maddening, talented, captivating, maddening, ballsy, maddening player.
After finally answering the braying questions about his opening round wobbles, at major championships, Rory McIlroy had a wobble on Friday and finally imploded on Saturday.
This PGA Championship is so crazy and exacting, though, that McIlroy starts final round Sunday nine strokes off leader Mito Pereira but is not completely out of it.
On Thursday, many McIlroy supporters were starting to dream of him bridging an eight-year gap between major wins. 52 hours after the start to that wild ride, McIlroy and the rest of us were off-road and looking up from the ditch.
Saturday at Southern Hills Country Club was brutal. May weather in Tulsa, Oklahoma is very often balmy and sedate. The winds that had swirled about on Thursday and Friday turned northerly while the temperature dropped a few degrees.
Tiger Woods struggled to a +9 round of 79 and, later that day, withdrew from the rest of the tournament. It was for the best, as Woods was hobbling badly around the course.
Others were caught in the swirling crosswinds as big scores were racked up - Will Zalatoris (73), Justin Thomas (74), Bubba Watson (73), Tyrrell Hatton (74), Jordan Spieth (74), Viktor Hovland (75) and Tony Finau (74). For McIlroy, the descent has been steep - 65, 71, 74.
On Saturday, two par threes all but ended his latest major challenge.
'Stinking it out'
If McIlroy appeared stuck in neutral, on Friday, he was careening backwards, downhill in his third round. He started off with five pars before under-cooking his approach to the long par-three 6th. "Go, go, GO!" he urged his ball, back on the sixth tee, but it was a forlorn cry. The ball found a creek and he ended up with double bogey. The next two holes were bogey, bogey and the 32-year-old was back to level par.
On the 11th hole, the shortest hole on the course (168 yards), the wheels exploded off. There was a birdie on the 9th to provide some relief but it was short-lived. There was another wayward approach, requiring a drop. McIlroy then three-putted and had an ugly triple bogey on his card.
On the popular podcast No Laying Up, the hosts remarked that McIlroy was 'stinking it out' in his second and third rounds. Phil 'Big Randy' Landes was more critical of the Holywood native's Friday round than his Saturday implosion. He commented:
"Yesterday was very, very bad. To shoot what he did when the wind died down... that Rory of 2010 to 2014, it's a ghost, man. I don't think he's coming back."
That pointed statement remains to be seen, but another major looks to have passed McIlroy by and there will be plenty to rue.
My undying love and devotion for Rory McIlroy may be my most toxic relationship
— Amanda Rose (@AmandaGolf59) May 21, 2022
Still... a pulse
To his credit, McIlroy climbed back to -1 after three birdies, on 13, 14 and 15. Undertaker 'back from the dead' memes and GIFs flooded Twitter as McIlroy stood on the 17th tee with driver in hand. Cam Young had driven the green and holed an eagle putt, just 30 minutes beforehand.
If McIlroy could reach the green or give himself a short pitch, he had a chance to go -2. At this stage, Mito Pereira and Will Zalatoris were about -6. Somehow, McIlroy was in a position to get back to within three or four of the lead.
It was not to be, though. His drive found the green-side bunker and he two-putted for par. On the 18th, he three-putted and finished with a bogey. Pereira, meanwhile, birdied three of his last six holes.
From one ahead to five behind, Saturday ended with Rory McIlroy nine strokes behind the hot-streak Chilean. In a ditch, looking up and asking 'How?' again.
*You can stream Sunday's final round coverage from Southern Hills Country Club in Oklahoma with a NOW Sports Membership. The coverage will begin at 1 pm Irish time.