Rory McIlroy, eyeing first major win in almost a decade, one shot back headed into Sunday

LOS ANGELES — Rory McIlroy is well aware of how long it’s been: 3,233 days, to be exact, since he’s last won a major championship.

That, for better or for worse, seems to be following McIlroy around Los Angeles Country Club like a cloud this week.

While that may be a bit distracting, McIlroy showed flashes in Saturday’s third round of what it takes to break that drought and take home another U.S. Open title. He strolled casually into the clubhouse in a plain black T-shirt early in the afternoon, and then confidently launched a 388-yard drive on the opening hole — the longest there of the day — which later set up a tap-in birdie putt to kick off his round. The often sparse crowd was on his side, too, and only grew throughout the afternoon.

While that level of play didn’t hold throughout the day, McIlroy was about as pleased as he could be when he walked off the 18th green. He’s just a shot back of the leaders headed into the final round of a major championship.

“Felt like I played really smart, solid golf,” McIlroy said. “Hit a lot of fairways, hit a lot of greens. Sort of felt somewhat stress free out there, if you can ever call golf at a U.S. Open stress free. Overall, yeah, pretty pleased with how today went, and feel like I’m in a good spot heading into tomorrow.”

After carding a pair of birdies in his first three holes Saturday, McIlroy’s round stalled out a bit. He had to scramble a bit to save par repeatedly over the next several holes, though he got through clean save for a pair of bogeys. He shined again at the 14th green, hitting a chip that was nestled right next to the edge of the 15th tee box to just 7 feet from the cup. That gave him another birdie, his last of the day.

McIlroy finished with a 1-under 69, his worst round of the tournament so far, though it put him at 9-under on the week. There were plenty of birdie chances he left out there on the greens. The 18th was a perfect example, where a birdie putt from almost 30 feet out stopped about a foot left of the cup.

To McIlroy’s credit, nobody went low on Moving Day. Tom Kim posted the best round at 4-under, but only 17 golfers were under par on the day by the time the last group walked off the course. Wyndham Clark went 1-under, which brought him to 10-under on the week and into a share of the lead with Rickie Fowler, who went even on his round.

McIlroy’s last major championship wins came in 2014, when he won the British Open and PGA Championship. Sure, he’s accomplished more than most since then. He’s had dominant stretches on the course, and he became the de facto leader of the Tour amid its battle with LIV Golf. But another major win has eluded him time and time again. He nearly pulled it off last year at St. Andrews, but his lead at the British Open slipped away that Sunday.

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy enters Sunday at Los Angeles Country Club a shot back from Wyndham Clark and Rickie Fowler. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

McIlroy said Friday that he recently started pulling up highlights from that championship round in 2014 at Royal Liverpool, too. He didn’t explain exactly why he fell down that YouTube rabbit hole to view his 25-year-old self’s last major run, but he’s clearly looking for something.

If he’s going to finally break that major drought and pull off a win Sunday — something that would mean even more after the LIV Golf drama he has been fully entrenched — it’s going to take a bit more than he showed Saturday.

But between now and Sunday afternoon when he tees off with Scottie Scheffler in the penultimate group, McIlroy insists he isn’t going to change a thing. After all, it’s gotten him this far.

“It’s been such a long time since I’ve done it,” McIlroy said. “I’m going out there to try to execute a game plan, and I feel like over the last three days I’ve executed that game plan really, really well.

“I just need to do that for one more day.”