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McIlroy (70) heads to range late after falling behind Rahm

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Rory McIlroy took only five questions from the media Saturday night before heading to the range.

He had work to do before sunset.

McIlroy shot a respectable 2-under 70 to stay in the hunt at The Players, but he fell a shot behind the red-hot Jon Rahm, who surged up the leaderboard with a third-round 64.

There was a sense of urgency as McIlroy spoke, but the answer might not be found on the range at TPC Sawgrass. His par-5 play disappointed again Saturday, as he played the longest holes in even par. That followed his pattern from the final round at Bay Hill, when he played the par 5s in just 1 under Sunday despite having irons into each of the holes.

“It’s definitely an area tomorrow that I need to really concentrate on and try to make the most of those holes, because it’s getting difficult out there,” he said. “Definitely with the conditions the way they might be tomorrow, you’ve got to take advantage of the easier holes.”

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McIlroy made a mess of the second hole, taking bogey after he flailed his second shot right of the flag and then pitched over the green. On nine, he failed to convert a 15-footer. He had a two-putt birdie on 11 but made a critical error on the 16th hole, which once again played as the easiest hole on the course (4.363).

After getting relief because he was standing on the cart path, McIlroy was able to clear a thick patch of pine straw where he'd take his drop. He failed to take advantage of the good fortune, rocketing a long iron up the fairway and over the green, into the water. He made par.

“It just came out so hot,” he said. “I didn’t think twice about taking it on.”

After putting on a driving clinic over the first two days, McIlroy hit just four of 14 fairways Saturday and actually had the rare round in which he lost strokes to the field off the tee.

Thus his abbreviated media session and late-night range work.

“Maybe just getting ahead of it a little bit,” McIlroy said. “I missed a few to the right, so maybe just getting a little quick from the top. Probably something very simple.”