UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. - Rory McIlroy's body language said it all. He sank about a 15-foot comeback putt for par to complete a third-round 70 Saturday at Chambers Bay, and he raised both arms in mock celebration as if he were about to lift the U.S. Open trophy for the second time.
It was a sign of the frustration the world's No. 1-ranked player was feeling after struggling to make the cut by a stroke at 4-over for 36 holes and then failing to keep a subpar round going on "moving day." His even-par third round did move him forward, but not enough to feel he's anything but a long shot Sunday.
"It took a while to hole one," McIlroy said of his celebration at the 18th hole. "I missed seven makeable puts on the back nine. It was nice to see one drop at the last. I feel like I turned a 65 into a 70 today. Just real disappointed."
McIlroy came into the U.S. Open saying he was "in full control" of his game and anxious to back up his top ranking. But while his ball-striking has improved markedly since he missed two cuts recently in Europe, the bumpy greens of Chambers Bay have gotten into his head.
"I'm hitting great shots and great drives and giving myself chances the whole time," he said. "It's just hard to stay patient whenever I'm not holing anything.
"You start to miss a few, and there's some that you don't quite know if you've made a bad stroke or if it's bobbled off line. You start to doubt yourself a little bit, and you doubt the greens. You start thinking about it a little too much . . . The course itself is great, but to come to a U.S. Open and not have perfect greens is a little disappointing."
McIlroy was 2 under on the front nine to get to 2 over for the tournament, and he hit a great approach at the par-4 10th within three feet of the pin. He missed that putt plus short birdie putts at the 12th and 14th, three-putted the 11th for bogey and bogeyed No. 15 out of a sand trap. Suddenly, a promising round had disintegrated.
"I would say the putt at No. 10 was the real momentum- stopper," McIlroy said. "I'll need something spectacular [Sunday]. If I can hit the ball like I did today and have one of my best-ever putting rounds, I still have a chance."
As in fat chance.