Rory McIlroy is looking for his third major championship. (Canon/Getty Images)
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Don't look now but Rory McIlroy is back in the hunt at the PGA Championship.
The defending champion closed with two straight birdies in a round of 67 on Saturday that lifted McIlroy to 3 under and into the top 10 on the rapidly-changing leaderboard. That jump of 21 spots could hardly have come at a better time for the young man looking for his first victory of the season.
McIlroy showed a flair for the dramatic when he drained a long putt at the 17th hole and then chipped in from behind the green at No. 18. The 24-year-old Northern Irishman, who says he's been trying to enjoy the game more of late, followed that ball into the hole with a big grin and a series of subtle fist pumps.
"I couldn't have pitched a more perfect pitch," McIlroy said.
The 17th was playing as the hardest hole in the third round when McIlroy finished while the 18th, which was into the prevailing wind, was the fifth most difficult. So the birdies were particularly well-earned.
"I probably made up at least three, three-and-a-half shots on those last two holes," McIlroy said. He later added that a birdie at the 17th, a demanding 509-yard par 4, actually felt more like an eagle.
The round of 67, which included four birdies and a lone bogey, was a huge confidence-boost for McIlroy. He had to battle to make the cut on Friday after playing his first nine holes in 39 and finding himself 4 over for the tournament at the turn.
"To play like that on this golf course and do what I needed to do yesterday just to make the cut, and then to go out and play the way I did today, yeah, it's been a good stretch of holes," McIlroy said. "I've got another 18 to play, and hopefully I can just keep playing the way I am."
McIlroy said he expected Oak Hill to be set up tougher on Saturday -- and he knew the wind swirling through the oaks was going to be a challenge. But he drew strength from his win at the 2010 Wells Fargo Championship where he made the cut on the number and then shot 66-62 to earn the victory.
"It gives me a bit confidence knowing that I've been in that position before and I've been able to win," McIlroy said. "I know this is a major championship and it's a bit different, but I felt good enough about my game that I could go out there and post a good one today and at least give myself a chance going into tomorrow."
McIlroy, who has yet to win on either side of the Atlantic this year, said he began to see progress last week at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational where he tied for 27th. On Saturday at Oak Hill he hit half his fairways and 10 greens in regulation while using 25 well-timed putts.
"My short game has been really, really good," McIlroy said. "It was just a matter of trying to get a long game in shape. I wouldn't say that that was my best ball-striking round out there by any means, but I got it up and down when I needed to and that was the most important thing."