Can Rory McIlroy break the Major drought in style? Final round preview of the US Open

The Northern Irishman fired a superb 4-under-par 67 on Saturday at Torrey Pines to give himself a chance of lifting a second US Open title ten years after his first.

Best bets

Rory McIlroy to win 11/2

Russell Henley to win 7/1

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of Rory McIlroy's inability to win a Major Championship since 2014 is that he's rarely even given himself any chance to triumph.

In 24 Majors during that dry spell he's been within four shots of the 54 hole lead just twice, when four back and tied sixth at the 2018 Open, and before that when three back and playing in the final group of the 2018 Masters with eventual winner Patrick Reed.

In posting an excellent 4-under-par 67 on Saturday at Torrey Pines, to get to within just two shots of the third round leaders, the 32-year-old has given himself another rare opportunity to break that nagging, troublesome run.

In one sense it is his best (he's never been this close to the lead, at this stage of a Major Championship, in seven years), in another it's not quite that simple: he's not only got three men ahead of him, he also has the defending champion alongside.

Mackenzie HughesLouis Oosthuizen and Russell Henley lead on 5-under 208, with McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau on 3-under.

"I thought two 68s over the weekend, from where I was after Friday, was going to have a good chance," he said afterwards. "I've done the first part of that job. Now it's up to me tomorrow to go out and try to play a similar round of golf."

His aim is Webb Simpson-like because the American carded weekend 68s in 2012 to claim victory - the only US Open winner in the last quarter of a century to emerge from outside the top six with 36 holes to play.

Maybe as impressive as McIlroy's four back nine birdies, which built on the one par breaker he made on the front nine, were his responses to errant shots at the 15th and 16th.

He found scrub at the former, but fought hard to make bogey, and drained a nasty par saver at the latter after finding sand from the tee. He responded to both with quietly determined fist pumps.

"They were huge to keep momentum," he said. "And this is the only tournament in the world where you fist pump a bogey.

"There was really only one loose shot out there, the drive on 15. But, apart from that, it's one of the best rounds of golf I've played in a while."

The margins at this level are so small, a reality revealed in the fact that since the start of 2017 McIlroy and Brooks Koepka have the same weekend average in the Majors; their respective results, however, are glaringly different.

Of course, McIlroy has so rarely been in the heat of battle he's been able to freewheel, but on this Sunday he has the chance to demonstrate that it's not an entirely flawed number; to prove that he's very much major league.

How the betting looked pre-tournament:

There are, of course, four men equally desperate to claim the trophy.

Let's take a closer look at the leading contenders and a few championship trends.

Mackenzie Hughes - tied first, 5-under (73-67-68)

A superb back nine for the Canadian, including birdies at 11 and 18, plus a sensational eagle-3 at the 13th, vaulted him to the top of the leaderboard and will almost certainly enable him to post a career-best finish in his ninth Major start (previously T40th at this year's Masters).

That demonstrates what a surprise package the one-time PGA Tour winner is this week, as does the fact this is his first weekend of golf in six starts. On the other hand, he's 2-for-2 at converting 54 hole leads (once each on the PGA and KFT). He ranks top 10 for Strokes Gained Approach, Around the Green and Putting this week, but 60th Off the Tee.

Louis Oosthuizen - tied first, 5-under (67-71-70)

The one-time Major winner and five-time runner-up gets another chance to get that win-to-near-miss ratio working more in his favour. He was struggling late into Saturday, 2-over through 15 holes, but a birdie at 16 was followed by a brilliant eagle-3 at the 18th which transformed his state of mind.

Still to win on American soil, he's 9-for-17 at claiming wins from a lead with 18 holes to play, but 0-for-3 in America. He currently ranks third for Scrambling and fourth for SG Putting. However, he needs to, because he's 47th for Greens in Regulation.

Russell Henley - tied first, 5-under (67-70-71)

Pure Saturday grinding from the three-time PGA Tour winner who four times took a step forward (birdie) and pretty quickly took another step back (bogey). He stood tall, however, and, he may not know it, but 19 of the last 25 US Open winners maintained their pre-third round position or lost a little ground.

He's 2-for-6 at converting a 54 hole lead in his career (1-for-3 on both the first and second tier) and, typically in recent years, he's been excellent with his irons this week, ranking fourth for SG Approach and sixth for GIR. His putter can let him down, but he's ninth for SG Putting so far.

Rory McIlroy - tied fourth, 3-under (70-73-67)

So much good news that he's finally back with a look at contending in a Major and now the sneaky jab: he's yet to win a Major when not leading. Nonetheless, he's a special talent. The very fact that he's 32-year-old and suffering from a seven year Major win drought proves that. Also, two shots back? He's got fresh memories of such a position - it's what he faced when winning last month's Wells Fargo Championship.

He ranks eighth for SG Off the Tee, 28th for SG Approach, eighth for Greens in Regulation, second for SG Around the Greens, 51st for SG Putting and seventh for Putting Average. That hints at the putter working well for the birdie looks and maybe a little wonky from lag distance.

Bryson DeChambeau - tied fourth, 3-under (73-69-68)

He left the course frustrated yet he finished his day bogey-free (the first time he has been error-free on the card in a Major) and with a live chance of winning back-to-back national championships (he'd become just the eighth man to achieve that feat).

His swing has represented a bigger problem the nearer he's been to the target: he ranks third for SG Off the Tee, 19th for Approach and 70th Around the Green (he's then a very tidy fifth for Putting). Like McIlroy, being two back is familiar. In his case, he was two back when winning this tournament last year, but the circumstances were different; in September he played the final round with the leader and quickly ground him down.

US Open pre-final round trends

Of the last 25 championship winners, 19 were tied second or better after 54 holes. 23 were tied fifth or better and all of them tied eighth or better.

Eight of the last ten winners ranked top 10 for Greens in Regulation (one of the two exceptions ranked first for Scrambling). All 10 ranked top 20 for GIR and top 30 for Scrambling.

Remember also: the last 10 winners were all aged under 35, were all ranked in the world's top 30, had all finished top 25 in a previous US Open, and had a top three finish in the season.

The numbers say that Hughes falls short with his US Open pedigree and world ranking, with Oosthuizen's GIR numbers poor and his age counts against him. Henley's only failing is his world ranking.

McIlroy and DeChambeau lack only the decent Scrambling numbers, but the former has been excellent in SG Around the Green to make up for it, while DeChambeau has not.

PlanetSportBet prices Oosthuizen 10/3, DeChambeau 11/2, McIlroy 11/2, Henley 7/1 and Hughes 8/1.

READ MORE: What they said: The best of the quotes ahead of the final round of the US Open

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