By Keith Jackson
Rory McIlroy admitted he was relishing being in contention amid the “buzz” of spectators lining the fairways at Quail Hollow.
McIlroy enjoyed one of his best days on the greens as a three-under 68 kept him within two shots of the lead heading into the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship.
The two-time champion made four birdies on the front nine alone on day three to jump into the outright lead, although he hopes of completing a hat-trick of wins took a hit when he pulled his drive into trouble at the 12th and ran up a double-bogey six.
McIlroy did well to scramble a par with a confident eight-foot putt on the next green, passing a huge test of resolve which he built on down the stretch, clawing one shot back with a neat up-and-down at the long 15th and parring safely in to stay at seven under.
“It was buzzy, that atmosphere,” said McIlroy, who was playing the weekend for the first time since the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. “There was certainly a buzz, especially I got it going there on the front nine. It was just so cool to play in an atmosphere like that again.
“I’ve missed it. I didn’t think I would miss it as much as I did, but I really have. So to be in contention, to have the fans back, I really enjoyed it out there today and I’m excited about tomorrow.
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“It’s going to be cool. I said I didn’t think I would miss it as much as I did when we came back. I felt that I actually enjoyed the quietness, but I realised that it’s hard for me to bring the best out in myself without the kind of atmosphere that we had today.”
McIlroy also revealed he was having to hold himself back after hitting form on one of his favourite tracks, form which came as a mild surprise as he remains in a period of transition with his swing under the watchful eye of Pete Cowen and long-time coach Michael Bannon.
“I’m excited to be in the position I’m in, but I wasn’t really expecting to be in this position coming into this week,” he added. “I felt like I was still working on my game and I thought progress this week was being here today, which I am.
“Then I played well again today, so I just have to go out and try to play well again tomorrow and see where that leaves me.
“I’m nervous, but I like nervous, though, because it means that it matters. It means that it really matters. It’s about trying to not be too amped up and get ahead of yourself.
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Sometimes when I get off to a start like today, especially around here, it’s hard for me to not get ahead of myself because I’ve done some pretty cool things here before. I was just trying to rein myself back in a little bit.
“It’s a golf course that I am comfortable on, and going into a final round tomorrow with a chance to win, I feel like I need everything I can get to try to get over the line. For me to be in contention for the first time in a while and for it to be here is probably beneficial.”
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