McIlroy likes his US Open chances after strong 68

New York (AFP) –


Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy likes his chances of capturing his first major title since 2014 after firing a two-under 68 Saturday to jump into contention at the US Open.

The 31-year-old Northern Ireland star stood on one-over 211 after 54 holes at wicked Winged Foot, where dense rough and lightning-fast greens kept the world's best golfers scrambling.

"I'm feeling pretty good that I've got a good chance going into tomorrow," McIlroy said. "Conditions are going to be pretty similar to today, which is fine. If I go out there tomorrow and shoot another 68, I won't be too far away."

Fourth-ranked McIlroy, who has not won a major since the 2014 PGA Championship, battled through the tricky opening holes, found birdies where he could and scrambled late to gain ground on the leaders.

"It was really good," he said. "Key for me was to just try to play the first five holes well. To get through those in even par, I knew in that middle section you could make a couple birdies and then hang on coming in. Knocked a couple in when I could. A really good round of golf."

McIlroy sank a 10-foot birdie putt at seven and blasted out of a greenside bunker to three feet to birdie the par-5 ninth.

He suffered his lone bogey at the par-3 10th, going from rough to bunker to green, but birdied the par-5 12th from seven feet and made par-saving putts from 12 feet at 11 and 11 feet at the 15th.

"You're going to have stretches in US Opens where you're going to make mistakes, but if you can back it up with stretches of golf like I showed there, that's what you have to do," McIlroy said. "It's not going to be all plain sailing in this tournament."

Winged Foot lived up to its reputation a day after McIlroy struggled to a 76.

"The wind is not quite as strong as it was," McIlroy said. "It played a touch less difficult. Not easier, but it was a little less difficult."

McIlroy, playing his first major since the birth of daughter Poppy, said the lack of spectators as a coronavirus safety precaution removes potential distraction for leaders as well as inspiring cheers for chasers.

"It's one variable that you just don't have to deal with," McIlroy said. "Maybe not a loss of an advantage to me, but just makes it a touch easier for the guys at the top. It just makes it a little different and maybe a touch easier if you're in those final few groups."

McIlroy still sees plenty of trouble ahead for US Open leaders.

"It doesn't take much around here," he said. "Someone gets off to a decent start, maybe 1- or 2-under through five, and then the leader goes the other way, 1- or 2-over through five, and all of a sudden you're right in the thick of things.

"I feel like I've got a pretty good shot."