New York: Rory McIlroy's chip for birdie on No. 18 dropped into the hole, and he dropped to a crouch with a fierce fist pump. Confident, intense, he looked like the defending champion at a major, the guy who won the PGA Championship by a record eight strokes last year. Ever since McIlroy found himself in danger of missing the cut midway through his round Friday, that player may have finally returned.
McIlroy shot a 3-under 67 in tougher conditions on Saturday to lift himself to the edge of contention. He was tied for seventh, six strokes behind leader Jim Furyk, heading into the final round.
"It was good to feel the sort of rush again," he said.
If he can feel it again Sunday, perhaps this will be the week that snaps him out of a season's worth of doldrums. Through 11 holes of his second round, McIlroy was 4 over for the tournament. The cut wound up at 3 over. Since then, he has played 25 holes in 7 under.
McIlroy was at 1 under for the tournament when he stepped up to the 17th tee Saturday. The final two holes have been the toughest to birdie at Oak Hill this week, but he did it at both, sinking a long putt on No. 17.
"I probably made up at least 3, 3½ shots on those last two holes," McIlroy said. Making a birdie on 17 is like an eagle," he added, "and then to follow it up with another on the last is even better."
Coming into the day, he did what he always does when he finds himself in a similar situation: He reminisced about Quail Hollow in 2010. McIlroy was two shots over the cut line with three holes to play in the second round when he made an eagle to stick around for the weekend. Then he shot 66-62 over the last two days for his first PGA Tour victory.
"It gives me a bit of confidence knowing that I've been in that position before and I've been able to win," McIlroy said. "I know this is a major championship and it's a bit different, but I felt good enough about my game that I could go out there and post a good one today and at least give myself a chance going into tomorrow."
He has yet to win in 2013 and shot just one round below 70 in his first three majors of the year. Two days after he appeared headed toward missing the cut at the second straight major, he has an outside chance at winning his third.
"To play like that on this golf course and do what I needed to do yesterday just to make the cut, and then to go out and play the way I did today, it's been a good stretch of holes," McIlroy said. "I've got another 18 to play, and hopefully I can just keep playing the way I am."