The Players: Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood happy with day-three fightbacks
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 17/03/19 11:04pm
Rory McIlroy was satisfied his "character and grit" helped keep his Players Championship title hopes intact following a dreadful start to his third round at TPC Sawgrass.
McIlroy shared the overnight lead with Ryder Cup team-mate Tommy Fleetwood, who double-bogeyed the opening hole while the Northern Irishman dropped shots at each of the first two before beginning his fightback with a birdie at the third.
Further gains at the seventh and eighth, where McIlroy's towering 238-yard long-iron rolled to within a few inches of the cup, got him under the card for the day, although he would go on to pick up only one more shot at the 11th as he missed three decent chances to reclaim the lead from Jon Rahm.
While the Spaniard was posting a back-nine 30 to race to 15 under, McIlroy was off target with 15-foot putts at 12 and 13 and, after he salvaged par at 16 when his ambitious second bounded through the green and into water, he misread a 10-foot putt for birdie on the final green and settled for a 70.
"I'm in a good position," said McIlroy, who will go out in Sunday's penultimate pairing alongside Jason Day. "It's not the best position I could be in, but I thought after the start today that to play the last 16 holes in four under par with no bogeys was a good effort.
"I just got off to a bit of a slow start. I don't mind bogeying the first, that's fine. But then the bogey at the second hole was a little disappointing. But I showed some character out there, showed some grit."
"I got a few shots back, it would have been nice to pick up a couple in the last few holes, but I'm still right there going into Sunday," added McIlroy, who conceded he needs to play the long holes better over the final round to contend for the title.
"I haven't played the par-fives that good the last couple weeks, and Bay Hill especially last week, you needed to play the par-fives well and I didn't on the last day.
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"I only played them in even par today, so it's definitely an area that I need to really concentrate on and try to make the most of those holes because it is getting difficult out there, definitely with the conditions the way they might be. You have got to take advantage of the easier holes."
Fleetwood, meanwhile, was also delighted with his back-nine fightback having stumbled to the turn in 38, making four birdies coming home to ensure his place in Sunday's final pairing with Rahm.
"It was a tougher day today, and I didn't have my swing like I've had for the first two days and really struggled with that early on," he said. "It was a poor start, but I think the good thing about it was how good I was mentally, the character I showed.
"I got stuck in there on one of the toughest golf courses we play and managed to get an under-par round out of it when I didn't really feel comfortable all day. Just be happy that I've sort of managed to get through that day whilst not feeling all that great.
"You just have to keep going. I would have loved a 'go-to' shot today, but I didn't really have one. I had a right miss a lot and I struggled with my rhythm. But you have to dig deep, and you have to try and get it round.
"I think the birdies at 11 and 12 were big because they're holes that you want to pick up shots on, and I played them really well. I think those holes were really key just to get something going at least and try and move in the right direction."