By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Rory Sabbatini did a double take as he walked past Rory McIlroy in the locker room Saturday morning at Conway Farms.
"You can't be done," Sabbatini said in disbelief.
But with a successful title defense and a trip to the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola well out of reach, the mission was simple for McIlroy.
"The goal was to play as fast as I could," he said.
McIlroy and playing partner Charley Hoffman finished in 2 hours, 35 minutes after being first off in the third round of the BMW Championship.
It was a far different scenario than this time last season for McIlroy.
A year ago, McIlroy was on his way to winning for the second straight week. This year, he was greeted by only a smattering of fans on Conway Farms' 18th hole.
"It took me longer to sign autographs than it did to play the last hole," McIlroy said of Saturday's round.
That's true in part because McIlroy eagled the par-5, reaching the green in two with a 6-iron from 200 yards to set up a 6-foot putt he didn't waste much time on.
"When you're going out there trying to play fast and end up shooting a decent score maybe it's an indication I'm trying a little too hard sometimes," said McIlroy after a 68 that included three birdies.
His day wasn't blemish-free, though. McIlroy double-bogeyed the par-4 13th after taking four shots to get down from a greenside bunker.
It has been four months since McIlroy has gone a full tournament without making at least one double bogey (or worse). The last time he did so was at THE PLAYERS Championship.
McIlroy's spotty bunker play has been partly to blame. He ranks 131st in sand saves this season after being 22nd a year ago.
"I've always thought of myself as a really good bunker player," he said. "This year, it hasn't been up to the same standard."
McIlroy's struggles in the sand can be attributed to his coming across the ball with his swing rather than hitting it square. Saturday, the result was a shot that was hit too thin and the ball released all the way across the 13th green.
McIlroy said he plans to work on his short game, among other things, over the next four weeks before heading to Korea to play.
In the short term, McIlroy had already left Conway Farms before nearly half the field had teed off for the third round.
He planned to spend the rest of the afternoon eating a second breakfast, watching the Alabama-Texas A&M football game and the political thriller television series Scandal before another early tee time on Sunday. The goal will be the same then, too: Play fast.