Rory McIlroy hits out of the bunker to the second...

Rory McIlroy hits out of the bunker to the second green during the third round of the Masters on Saturday in Augusta, Ga. Credit: AP/Curtis Compton

If the second and third rounds of the Masters were the only ones that counted, Rory McIlroy would be in position on Sunday to win his first Masters to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy’s 11-under total for the middle two rounds was the best in the field, but his opening-round 75 means McIlroy only is 8-under through 54 holes, trails third-round leader Dustin Johnson by eight strokes and, in his estimation, has no chance of winning.

Speaking of Johnson, who is No. 1 in the world and has a four-shot lead over second-place Sungjae Im, Abraham Ancer and Cameron Smith, McIlroy said, "Yeah, eight shots, being a realist here, I just need to go out and shoot a good one [Sunday] and see where it puts me. But I have zero thoughts about winning the golf tournament right now.

"You’re just trying to shoot the best possible score. I think I’ve left myself too far back after a bad first day, but I’ll go out and give it a good effort."

McIlroy had not played well since the PGA re-start in June, but he certainly found his game in the second and third rounds at Augusta National, shooting a second-round 66 followed by a 67 in the third round Saturday. He only had one bogey in that span.

"Yeah, 11-under for the last two days, I think that sort of speaks for itself," McIlroy said. "The good golf was in there. I just didn’t allow myself to play that way on the first 18 holes. This course can make you a little bit careful and a little bit tentative at times. I’ve always said I play my best golf when I’m trusting and freer, and I’ve been a lot freer the last 36 holes."

One sidelight to McIlroy’s third round is that he was paired with two-time former champion Bernhard Langer, who became the oldest man to make the cut at the age of 63. Needless to say, he and McIlroy were playing two different courses because of the dramatic difference in length off the tee.

"I try to think about what scores I would shoot if I was hitting it where he hit it," McIlroy said of Langer. "Honestly, it’s like me playing and 8,500-yard course. It’s impressive the way he plots his way around and gets it up and down when he needs to…I wish in 30 years’ time I’m back here doing the exact same thing."

But to do that, McIlroy first must win a green jacket.

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