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Another tale of two nines for McIlroy at Sawgrass

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – If given the choice, Rory McIlroy would likely vote to change the format of The Players Championship: scrap the front nine at TPC Sawgrass, and just play the back nine on a loop.

McIlroy has historically struggled with the outward half and thrived coming in, a trend he continued with a 2-under 70 in the third round that took him to 6 under for the championship. The Ulsterman carded a bogey-free 33 on the back nine, boosting his record on the side to 7 under this week and 28 under across his last eight rounds.

“Sort of been that way for three years,” McIlroy said.

Last year McIlroy earned a top-10 finish at this event despite playing the front nine in 8 over, and he admitted that he struggles with choosing a shot shape on the front, where many of the holes play perfectly straight.

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“I sort of get up there and I’ve got about six shots in my head that I can hit,” he said. “I just need to try and pick one of them and commit to them and sometimes, of the six shots, I don’t hit any of them.”

McIlroy found 14 of 18 greens in regulation, but he failed to convert many of his chances on the greens. He took 32 putts, ranking 58th out of 75 players in strokes gained-putting for the round.

“Just very frustrated on these greens, and not seeing a lot of putts drop,” he said. “It can change tomorrow, but tee to green, it’s right there. Just need to get a few to fall.”

McIlroy will head into the final round only a handful of shots off the lead but with more than a dozen names ahead of his in the standings. While he hopes that firmer conditions will help to separate the field, he believes the event remains wide open.

“It seems like half the Tour has a chance to win this thing,” he said. “They’re just so bunched. Anyone that’s sort of five, maybe six shots behind, they can go out and shoot a low one tomorrow.”