The world No 1 was again impressive from tee to green at Chambers Bay, but he needed 31 putts in a frustrating third-round level-par 70 that left him on four over par for the tournament.
McIlroy, who has now had 96 putts over 54 holes, started confidently with the short stick as he holed a great putt for par from 15 feet at the first and nailed another from similar distance for birdie at the second.
He converted another sublime approach at the seventh, but he missed “seven good chances” on the back nine and dropped shots at the 11th and 15th before holing from 12 feet to salvage a par-five at the last.
“I missed seven good chances on the back nine, or seven makeable putts, anyway,” said McIlroy, who dropped shots on the 11th and 15th. “It was just nice to see one drop at the last there. I feel like I turned a 65 into a 70 today.
“Whenever you start to miss a couple you start to get a little tentative. You??start to doubt yourself. You start to doubt the greens a little bit. And then it??just sort of snowballs from there. I holed a few nice ones early on, but once I??missed a couple it got into my head and couldn’t really get out of it.”
Henrik Stenson had likened the greens to putting on broccoli after the second round, but??McIlroy joked: “I don’t think they’re as green as broccoli. I think they’re??more like cauliflower.
“They are what they are, everyone has to putt on them. It’s all mental. Some??guys embrace it more than others, and that’s really the way it is. It is??disappointing that they’re not in a bit better shape. But the newer greens like??seven and 13, they’re perfect.
“I played last Sunday and I felt like they (the USGA) brought it a little too??much towards the brink then. And it’s always a struggle from then to sort of??rein it back little bit. I would have liked to see them keep it a little greener??for the practice rounds and then gradually as the tournament progresses get a??little firmer.
“That might have kept the greens in a bit better shape, but you never know.??I’ve never been here before, but I hear that the weather isn’t always like this.??If there had been a little bit of moisture and had it been overcast the greens??might not have gotten baked out and as bumpy as they are.”
McIlroy admitted he was frustrated to four-putt the 17th and drop another shot??on the 18th in his second round, but was happy to have ground out a score after??missing the cut in his previous two events.
“I’m pleased with how I’ve kept it going,” the 26-year-old said. “It’s a lot??easier to do that than when you’re not hitting fairways and not hitting greens.??I’m hitting great shots and great drives and giving myself chances the whole??time.
“It’s just hard to stay patient whenever I’m not holing anything. I feel??mentally I’ve accepted most things this week, which is good.”