As U.S. Open nears, Rory McIlroy finally posts a sub-70 round

Golf is a crazy game. One moment we're talking about Rory McIlroy as the heir apparent to the golf throne and the next every discussion is centered around whether he's going to be able to to break 70 before his U.S. Open title defense.

If the 23-year-old's rise and fall have taught us anything this year, it's that golf truly is a game of inches. If you don't believe me, just look at the roller-coaster ride McIlroy's been on recently, winning earlier this year at PGA National to take over the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking, only to fall completely off the map two months later.

It's safe to say nobody saw that coming   especially McIlroy who's had the deer-in-the-headlights look for the last month, after he missed the cut at the BMW PGA Championship with a second-round 79, only to replicate the feat a week later at the Memorial with another 79.

No doubt about it, these struggles are atypical for McIlroy, who churned out one of the most consistent years we've seen since a guy with the last name Woods was posting top-five finishes like they were made cuts.

But something happened along the way, as McIlroy went from piling up top-10 finishes to struggling to just make the weekend. While he's been quick to brush off the three consecutive missed cuts, you could tell there was a sense of urgency when he decided to add the FedEx St. Jude Classic to his schedule, just a week before he was supposed to put the peg in the ground at Olympic Club.

The kid said he needed more reps, and after one round in Memphis, it looks like the additional time on the course at least has him going in the right direction, after McIlroy posted a 2-under 68 for his first sub-70 in his last six rounds.

It seems downright silly that we'd be praising McIlroy for a 68, but when a guy's been playing as poorly as he has (and you happen to be the second-ranked golfer in the world), you have to look at the pluses.

McIlroy obviously needed a confidence-building round, and he got it in the form of a solid 68 that included four birdies and two bogeys. But it didn't come easily; he struggled to hit 42 percent of his fairways and 50 percent of his greens in regulation.

[Also: Tiger Woods is odds-on favorite to win the U.S. Open at Las Vegas sportsbook]

TPC Southwind is one of the tighter courses on the PGA Tour, making it a tough to place to pad your fairways and greens stats. However, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize McIlroy had to grind for his round. Like his opening round 1-under 71 at the Memorial, he was able to make something out of mediocre ball-striking round.

While that may work in Memphis, it won't be nearly as easy to get around Olympic Club with that kind of game. McIlroy could pull a Tiger and suddenly find his swing over the next couple of days, but one sub-70 isn't anything to get overly excited about.

The good news for McIlroy is it's a positive round, and that's all he can ask for at the moment.

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