McIlroy implodes mid-round, shoots Saturday 76

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Just one shot off the pace through 36 holes, Rory McIlroy looked as if he was going to put up a stiff fight to defend his Australian Open title.

That was before a Saturday 76 in Sydney.

Even par through eight holes in Round 3, McIlroy sent his tee shot right on the par-4 ninth, into the fescue. After failing to advance his second from the tall grass, and with his ball in a bit of an odd spot, he elected to take a drop.

"I hit a wayward tee shot into what I thought was a decent-enough lie that I could advance the ball," McIlroy told the Associated Press. "But I didn't realize what I was standing on is not like dirt or earth. It was more like carpet. So the ball went underneath the carpet. Had it been a normal surface it would have been all right, but down there it was impossible."

Following the drop, he hit his fourth off to right once again - this time into the gallery - en route to a triple bogey.

After making the turn at plus-3, he followed up with a double at the 10th, dropping him to 5 over in just two holes.

From there, McIlroy traded two birdies for two bogey over his last eight holes and finished the round 5 over. He now sits 1 over for the championship and six shots behind leader Jordan Spieth heading into Sunday.

"I need a fast start tomorrow to have a chance," he said. "I still feel like I can shoot a good one."

McIlroy's round of 76 was his highest since a second-round 78 at the Scottish Open in July. The week after, he would begin a stretch of three straight victories at little-known events called the British Open, WGC-Bridgestone and PGA Championship.