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Rory McIlroy (73) shows grit despite one of his toughest challenges 'in a long time'

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BROOKLINE, Mass. – With three bogeys in his first six holes Saturday at The Country Club, Rory McIlroy seemed doomed for another weekend slide.

There have been a number of clunkers over the past eight years since his last major win – including last month at the PGA Championship, where he squandered a promising start with a Saturday 74. He eventually placed eighth.

But instead of blowing himself out of this U.S. Open, McIlroy locked in and played even par to the clubhouse on what he said was one of the most difficult scoring days in recent memory. In cool temperatures and 25-mph crosswinds, he signed for a disappointing 3-over 73 but remained within striking distance, only three shots back of co-leaders Will Zalatoris and Matt Fitzpatrick.

Full-field scores from U.S. Open

“It wasn’t the greatest of starts,” a fatigued McIlroy said afterward, “but sort of steadied the ship a little bit and happy to get in a few lower than it could have been.”

McIlroy remained tops in the field in putting and cited a number of crucial saves coming in, including a stretch on Nos. 13, 15, 16 and 17 that could have dropped him even further behind. On the closing hole, he rope-hooked his tee shot but was able to get relief from a grandstand, leading to a stress-free par.

It was reminiscent of the grind McIlroy showed Friday, when he canned a 30-footer for double bogey on the third hole after taking three hacks from the greenside hay. He ended up playing 3 under the rest of the way. 

“I think I’m a better putter, so that helps,” he said. “Whenever you’re giving yourself these 10- to 12-footers for par all the time and you’re stepping up and making them, that’s huge.

“It’s not as if I haven’t been able to play good golf in bad conditions before, but I think in situations like this, I just dig in there a little bit more. I guess I’m always trying to look at the positives. In this game of golf, you need to be an eternal optimist.”

A steep challenge remains: he’s three shots back and has to leapfrog six other players, including major champions Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler, but at least, McIlroy said, he still gave himself a shot. He is looking to become the first player since 1934 to claim the U.S. Open after winning the week prior on the PGA Tour.