After opening with rounds of 74-70 Thursday and Friday, Rory McIlroy wasn't sure if he'd done enough to make the cut. "It was a bit of an edgy late afternoon, early evening, but it's nice just to be here for the weekend," he said. "And I just went out with a mindset that we'll try and make the most of the next couple of days."
Now, he's in contention. McIlroy stormed up the leaderboard with a bogey-free eight-under 64 Saturday morning to move from a share of 69th to a share of fourth, when he finished. At that point, the leaders hadn't even teed off, so McIlroy knew he wouldn't stay that high as more players got out on course. But he was encouraged nonetheless.
"Over the last few weeks I've played rounds of golf like this, but I've also played rounds of golf where it's been pretty average. So the good's very good and the bad is, I need to get that a little bit better," he said.
McIlroy got off to a hot start with birdies at No. 2 and 3 after sticking short irons inside eight feet. Things got even better at the par-5 5th, where McIlroy hit his second shot in the back left bunker before holing that shot for eagle.
A strong drive and long iron set up a two-putt birdie at the par-5 7th, and just like that McIlroy was five under.
He added a birdie after laying up at the par-5 11th when he hit his wedge to inside 6 feet. A near-ace at 12 left him a kick-in birdie that got him to seven under. He capped off the fireworks with a 27-footer for birdie at 13, the only putt outside 14 feet he made all day.
After that it was all pars for McIlroy, who hit 10 of 14 fairways and 13 of 18 greens on the day.
Even better, the round served as encouragement for McIlroy's U.S. Open chances. "If I could produce four days of golf at Shinnecock like I did today, then, yeah, I'm ready," he said. "But I've got a little bit of work to do just to get a bit more consistency in there."
As leaders Joaquin Niemann and Kyle Stanley began to warm up, McIlroy was already looking forward to his final round. "I always felt that a golf tournament is 72 holes, and nothing is ever decided until that 72nd hole is played," he said. He acknowledged he'll be aware of where he stands in the tournament, too. "When people say they don't look at leaderboards and sometimes don't know where they are in golf tournaments, I find that crazy. I'm like, 'You need to know where you are.'"