Rory McIlroy climbs Open leaderboard with front-nine 31, then sputters

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Rory McIlroy tried to orchestrate a royal comeback. Royal St. George's eventually dethroned him.

McIlroy began Saturday's third round of The Open Championship at even par after back-to-back 70s, but five birdies on his front nine helped him turn in 4-under 31. However, he couldn't keep the momentum going, and he'll sit just 1 under after 54 holes.

After an opening birdie for the second time in three days at Royal St. George's, McIlroy added another birdie by sinking a 25-footer at the par-4 fourth.

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Despite giving a shot back at the next, McIlroy added birdies at Nos. 6, 7 and 9.

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The hot start didn't last, though. McIlroy didn't make a birdie on the back nine and ended up shooting 1-under 69.

"Sort of a tale of two nines," McIlroy said afterward. "I played great on the front nine, hit some really good iron shots and converted some putts and really got it going. Then the back nine played tough. They're sort of tucking the pins away. They've stretched the golf course out to as long as it can play. I was hitting 2-iron into the 11th hole, that par-3, and that was sort of – I missed a short putt there for par and it kind of killed the momentum I had. Not birdieing the par-5 and making another couple bogeys on the way in, certainly it felt like a better round than 1 under par, but it was encouraging to see some of the golf that I played on that front nine.

"It's just a matter of trying to keep that going and try to turn those nine-hole stretches into 18-hole stretches, and then those 18-hole stretches into whole tournaments. It's getting there."

McIlroy throws club after third-round tee shot on 14

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McIlroy has five career top-5s at The Open, including his win in 2014. Four of those came consecutively before McIlroy snapped the streak with a missed cut at Royal Portrush in 2019.