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Rory McIlroy remains in US Open hunt after a battling display and Jon Rahm slip-up on the 18th hole

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Rory McIlroy reacts after a missed putt for birdie on the 18th green

Rory McIlroy reacts after a missed putt for birdie on the 18th green

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Rory McIlroy plays his second shot at the 15th hole during yesterday's third round of the US Open

Rory McIlroy plays his second shot at the 15th hole during yesterday's third round of the US Open

Getty Images

Jon Rahm of Spain plays a second shot from a fairway bunker on the 18th hole

Jon Rahm of Spain plays a second shot from a fairway bunker on the 18th hole

Getty Images

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Rory McIlroy reacts after a missed putt for birdie on the 18th green

Rory McIlroy could not win the US Open yesterday but he didn’t lose it as he produced a sensational short game display down the stretch and battled his way to a three-over 73 that left him just three shots behind Will Zalatoris and Matt Fitzpatrick at The Country Club.

The Holywood star looked certain to trail defending champion Jon Rahm by four shots after the Spaniard got to five-under but made a double-bogey six at the last, driving into sand and taking two to get out to card a 71 that left him solo third on three-under.

Attitude has been key for the four-time Major winner in Boston and he needed to show it in spades at a cool and breezy Brookline last night as he survived a helter-skelter afternoon to keep alive his hopes of ending his eight-year winless streak in the Majors.

McIlroy has prided himself of staying on an even keel this week, reminding himself not to panic when things go wrong and he needed that poise in an attritional third round that sent halfway leaders Collin Morikawa and Joel Dahmen hurtling back into the pack.

The 33-year-old who is tied seventh on on one-under, was three-over after a ragged and nervous display over the first six holes when no aspect of his game was working and the magical putting touch of the first two days abandoned him as he bogeyed the second, third and sixth and missed his few birdie chances.

He turned for home five adrift of Masters champion and world No 1 Scottie Scheffler, who screwed a 101-yard wedge shot back into the hole for an eagle three at the eighth to go to three-under for the day and six-under for the championship and two clear.

But within 90 minutes on a snakes and ladders day, the world No 1 was three shots behind Will Zalatoris, who set the clubhouse target at four-under with a brilliant 67 as he racked up a double bogey five at the short 11th, then bogeyed the next three holes before he birdied the 17th and saved par from 15 feet at the last to card a 71 that left him tied with Keegan Bradley (69) and Adam Hadwin (70) just three shots behind Rahm on two-under.

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English star Fitzpatrick carded a 68 as his newly acquired length paid off again.

Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick were tied for second behind Chile’s Mito Pereira heading into the final round of the PGA Championship in Tulsa last month. But the American would lose in a play-off to Justin Thomas as the English star faded to tied fifth after a 73.

“I think especially coming off the PGA, it gave me a lot of belief and confidence that I belong in this situation,” said Zalatoris, who has two runner-up finishes among his five top-10s in seven major starts.

“I’ve put myself in this situation a few times in my career, and obviously have to go out and get it tomorrow.”

Fitzpatrick, who won the US Amateur at Brookline in 2013, has gone from 59th to 10th for strokes gained off the tee over the past few seasons thanks to speed training technique know as The Stack.

“I think I didn’t have my A-game that day, and still just missed the play-off by one or two shots,” Fitzpatrick said of Tulsa.

“I can’t even remember now.

“I think that was the thing — that I felt like if I played anything like my A-game, B-game, whatever, I would have been in even better contention. For me I think taking that away from it, knowing that I can play better than I did and where I finished definitely brought into this week as well as, obviously, having great experiences here before.”

Zalatoris and Fitzpatrick were briefly overtaken by Rahm, who was two-over for the day through 13 holes but birdied the 14th, 15th and 17th to get to five-under before his late mistake.

McIlroy will not catch the pace-setters if he plays anything like he did early yesterday.

He hooked his tee shot so badly at the first, he finished in the hospitality tents and was off with his distance control at the second, third and sixth, dropping shots each time.

After missing good birdie chances inside 10 feet at the seventh and eighth, he found himself five shots behind Scheffler and outside the top 10 before clawing his way back into contention.

After making a 12 footer for a two at the 11th, he bogeyed the 12th, then hooked into trees at the 13th but got up and down from 170 yards for, rolling in a 15 footer to remain four back before getting up and down from sand at the 15th and 16th and then making a 12 footer for another par at the 17th to share seventh on one-under.

It was his eighth single putt in the last nine holes, displaying the kind of grit required to end that long wait today.

While all this was going on, Séamus Power chiselled out a hugely impressive 70 to to share 11th on one-over.

“Overall I am pleased,” Power said.

“I really struggled at the start. I was hitting it all over the place and then played very nicely in the middle.

“It was a nice battle and I hung in there pretty well. I was hoping for a slightly better finish but I’m still in decent shape going into tomorrow.”

Power was six shots behind Zalatoris heading into the final round of the PGA Championship in Tulsa and knows that if he sticks around today, anything is possible.

“The chances are I’m going to be a similar spot in terms of shots back so hopefully I put what I learned there to good use and realise that it’s going to be tough for those guys tomorrow late in the day,” he said

“It’s going to be cooler again so every shot is going to be huge and if I can shoot a similar round to today and just give myself some chances, you never know.”


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