Saying Rory McIlroy had a boring day at work during Saturday’s third round of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines hardly rings true to the ear.
A payout of $2.25 million awaits the winner. Pocketing a major, the first in nearly seven years, would push McIlroy’s total to five and snug him up with legends Byron Nelson, Seve Ballesteros and three others.
So, why was the man positioned for final-round fireworks describing hotel dining? The impromptu review centered on rotisserie chicken, avocado, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic aioli, rather than Sunday pin placements.
“I’ve had the same chicken sandwich five nights in a row from room service, so I’ll probably make it six nights in a row,” said McIlroy, describing his wild Saturday night plans. “I’ll go to bed, I’ll wake up, do my warm-up in the gym and get ready to go play again. That’s about it.”
A somehow equally quiet 67 — tying Paul Casey for the best round of the day, dented with only one bogey after piling up 10 through 36 holes — was exactly the type of humdrum precision required in a U.S. Open.
Highlights? Save those for the whipping winds and choking native grass of British Open links courses or the gunslinger final rounds of a PGA Championship.
Slow and steady, McIlroy embraced, just might win the race.
“I just stayed really patient knowing that, if you’re not making bogeys out there, you’re not losing ground,” said McIlroy, tied for fourth with bomber Bryson DeChambeau, two strokes behind a trio at the top. “… It’s one of the best rounds of golf I’ve played in a while.”
How focused and dialed in was McIlroy, heading into his first and potentially unforgettable Father’s Day? He missed the ruckus caused by a rattlesnake the size of a forearm slithering into the canyon alongside No. 15, the location of his sole lost stroke on an errant drive.
The rattlesnake? Yep. They both seemed interested in the ball’s whereabouts on the tournament’s third-toughest hole. McIlroy scrambled for one of the best bogeys of his career, as odd as that might sound.
In a flash, the little drama hiding in his round called it a night.
“Huge, huge to keep momentum,” said McIlroy, 32. “As I said, this is the only tournament in the world where you fist pump a bogey. Only losing one there was a big deal.
“… That’s sort of what U.S. Opens are about. They’re not flashy. Hit fairways. Hit greens. Move on.”
The most shocking moment of the day might have come in a post-round interview on NBC. The cameras caught, they thought, McIlroy’s daughter Poppy. After they cut away, McIlroy course-corrected, explaining that was a cousin.
“Unless Poppy is walking miraculously,” McIlroy, grinning, said of his child born last August. “She wasn’t this morning. You really do miss everything (as a parent).”
McIlroy has never won a major when trailing after 36 holes, with No. 50 pending. The 19-time PGA Tour winner has seen his game coming together in fits and starts, though.
Winning the Wells Fargo Championship in May might have jump-started the thruster rocket. He had missed two of three cuts, including the Masters, before stitching things together at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C.
Mopping up potential bogeys Saturday cleaned up his game even more.
“They’re just huge momentum killers,” McIlroy said. “So, accepting the fact, OK, I’m going to hit a wedge 20 feet away, I still have a decent chance of holing it. But if I don’t, make par, move on. I think that’s typical U.S. Open golf.
“You have to accept that middles of greens and pars are good, and I got into that mindset.”
Patience and plodding made for an exciting position on the leaderboard, though.
In the first rounds of his last nine majors, McIlroy’s average score shot past 74. He fired a solid 70 Thursday, but seemed on the verge of trouble with a 73 a day later. His 67 solidified things and placed some history on the horizon.
“I’ve done the first part of the job,” McIlroy said. “Now it’s up to me (Sunday) to go out and try to play a similar round.”
McIlroy, asked to compare his Sunday position in San Diego to the other majors following his last win, at the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla, stopped to consider. Sprinting through the memory banks failed to provide an obvious answer.
“I’m trying to think of the last time where I really felt like I had a chance,” said McIlroy, buying a bit of time. “(Second in the British Open at) Carnoustie in ’18 felt like I maybe had half a chance. … There’s been some good finishes, but never felt like I was in the thick of things.
“I’m just excited for the opportunity to have a chance.”
Half a chance? This one feels like much more.
And at this tournament, with these fairways, with these greens, with mayhem lurking around every corner, dishwater-dull has its advantages. Back-slide at your own real and significant risk.
“I’ll take boring all day in a U.S. Open,” McIlroy said.
If he wants to live it up, order something else Sunday night.