UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Rory McIlroy went out in 33 on Saturday and was at 2 over for the tournament after his first nine holes, poised for a possible charge back up the leaderboard at the U.S. Open.
His inability to make putts on the back nine at Chambers Bay left McIlroy back where he started.
"Whenever you start to miss a couple you start to get a little tentative. You start to doubt yourself. You start to doubt the greens a little bit. And then it just sort of — it snowballs from there," McIlroy said after his round of 70. "I holed a few nice ones early on, but once I missed a couple it got into my head and couldn't really get out of it."
McIlroy's third round was filled with crisp, clean ball striking, following by frustration on the greens. He missed a number of putts inside 10 feet on the back nine and fell behind the field playing Nos. 11 and 12.
McIlroy made a bogey on the long par 4 11th, then could not take advantage of the drivable par 4 12th, putting his tee shot in the rough and missing his birdie attempt.
McIlroy joined the chorus of those noting the putting surfaces are not perfect, but it's something everyone has to deal with.
"I don't think they're as green as broccoli. I think they're more like cauliflower," McIlroy joked. "They are what they are, everyone has to putt on them. It's all mental. Some guys embrace it more than others, and that's really the way it is. It is disappointing that they're not in a bit better shape."
GATE KEEPER: Nick Hardy arrived at Chambers Bay on Saturday morning after little sleep and instantly started to hear thanks from the 15 players he helped make the cut late Friday night.
"They came up to me this morning, kind of laughed about it, but that's golf. I just happened to be the last ones on the course," Hardy said. "We joked about it this morning with some of the guys, it was funny.
Hardy was about 12 inches away from sending the likes of Sergio Garcia, Webb Simpson and Colin Montgomerie home before the weekend arrived at the U.S. Open. Hardy was the last player on the golf course on Friday night when the cut hovered at 4 over par. If he pared his final hole — the ninth — the cut would stay at 4 over. A bogey and the cut would move to 5 over.
Hardy hit a poor tee shot, splashed out of the bunker and had a 25-footer for par. Hardy said the putt was headed for the heart of the cup, but came up about a foot short.
Hardy said he was aware of the cut situation as he was playing Nos. 8 and 9 on Friday.
"Coming down on 8 and 9, I kind of knew that 5 over was actually going to make it," Hardy said. "Made a really bad swing at 9 and happened to make bogey."
Hardy — who shot 77 on Saturday — said a few players who made the weekend thanks to his bogey had already packed up their gear and a few jokingly offered a token of thanks. But Hardy knows his NCAA rules and politely declined.
"They were just goofing off. They were joking around with me, just saying, 'I'll buy you dinner,'" Hardy said. "I'm like, 'No, that's against NCAA rules.'"
PAIN FREE POULTER: Ian Poulter said he's pain free after withdrawing in Byron Nelson in Texas last month with a "strain."
But the injury, which was never specified, left him behind in his preparations for the U.S. Open and it showed in his swing.
"It's a shame I couldn't get any more work done than I what I did," Poulter said on Saturday. "I always knew it was going to be tricky coming in having not hit as many balls as I would have liked to."
After two shaky rounds to start, Poulter shot 69 in the third round, which he said could have been closer to 65 if his ball striking was more consistent. Poulter's been leaving too many shots out to the right.
"Missing a lot of drives way right, had a couple of iron shots way right. Because of that it's been damaging," Poulter said. "When I put it in play, I've been brilliant. I hit a lot of good shots, used a lot of the slopes, felt really comfy on the golf course."