University Place, Wash. — Rory McIlroy went out in 33 on Saturday and was 2 over for the tournament after his first nine holes, poised for a possible charge 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," McIlroy said after his even-par round of 70. "You start to doubt yourself. You start to doubt the greens a little bit. And then it just sort of — it snowballs from there. 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 par-4 11th, and 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 players 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."
Quite the rebound
Louis Oosthuizen played his first 18 holes at Chambers Bay in 7 over.
He has played the last 36 in 8 under.
Oosthuizen posted his second straight round of 66 on Saturday, the lowest score of the third round by two shots. He is one of eight players under par going to the final day.
Oosthuizen played his first two rounds with Tiger Wood and Rickie Fowler. The trio was a combined 28-over par on Thursday.
But while Fowler and Woods continued to tumble, Oosthuizen turned his game around.
"Being 9 over through 20 holes, it looked like I would have been back in Florida today," Oosthuizen said. "But, just I made a few putts yesterday and started hitting the ball really well. And a few little things this morning on the range, found a bit of a swing with my driver and seemed to sort of go from there on the rest of my game. And today I hit it really close on a lot of holes, could have been probably a lot lower."
Oosthuizen shot 32 on the front nine for the second straight day on Saturday and added a pair of birdies on the back nine. Over his last 27 holes, Oosthuizen has seven birdies, one eagle and only one bogey.
"If I hit it the way I did today I think I've got a pretty good chance of putting a good number out there again," Oosthuizen said.
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 parred 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," said Hardy, who shot 77 on Saturday. "Made a really bad swing at 9 and happened to make bogey."
Ian Poulter said he is pain-free after withdrawing from the Byron Nelson in Texas last month with a "strain."
But the injury, which was never specified, put 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 what I did," Poulter said 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, Poulter shot 69 in the third round, which he said could have been closer to 65 if his ball-striking was more consistent.
"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."
The other Aussie
Calling it a "dream come true," 21-year-old Australian Cameron Smith will be in one of the final groups on Sunday.
Smith came into the weekend at even par and shot 1-under 69 on Saturday, putting him within three shots of the lead. Smith was steady, making seven pars and two birdies on the back nine.
"The front nine I scrambled pretty well. I was pretty fortunate to get out of there with 1 over," Smith said. "And then just went back to my game plan and a few putts dropped on the back nine."
Smith, who had missed the cut in five of his nine events on the PGA Tour this season, is playing in his first major championship. Asked whether he thought he might be in contention in the final round, he replied: "No, not really."
"It's like a dream come true, really. That's all I can say," Smith said.
Give me 9
Ben Martin started Saturday at 3 under and two shots out of the lead. He ended the day at 13 over and in next-to-last place after shooting 86.
Martin started with a bang, making a birdie on the first hole, one of just 11 birdies on the hole in the third round. His day quickly fell apart from there.
Martin made double bogeys at Nos. 2, 3 and 7, a bogey at No. 6 and capped his miserable stretch by taking a nine on the par-5 eighth hole.
His back nine was only marginally better, and Martin's day was capped by a triple-bogey eight on the par-5 18th hole.