5 things: McIlroy has to avoid the jitters to win

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

BETHESDA, Md. – With Rory McIlroy enjoying a six-shot lead and seemingly on his way toward a coronation, Saturday’s telecast should be fascinating to watch. Expect to hear frequent reference to previous collapses by second-round major leaders, chiefly Bobby Clampett at the 1982 British Open and Gil Morgan at the 1992 U.S. Open.

Here are five things to look for during the day.

1.) Rory’s tempo: At 11-under par to start Round 3, McIlroy is playing just beautifully. He even had Mickelson applauding one of his approach shots Friday. But McIlroy also plays fast, as if his pre-shot routine is just to hit the ball. The kid is playing on instincts and feel, and they have served him well so far. But watch him closely and you’ll see his a little bit jittery between shots, tugging his pants, brushing back his hair, walking around. He’d do himself well to slow down just a bit and learn to pace his breathing and his playing tempo in between (and especially before) shots. If things start going a little sour, the quickness becomes liability, not an asset.

2.) Green speeds: The morning round of double-mowing and single rolling has produced greens speeds in the range of 13.5 on the Stimpmeter. But given all the moisture in the air and the nature of recovery from mowing, expect the greens to slow down a full foot in speed by late afternoon. That might not seem like a lot to most golfers, but it’s a big adjustment for these players, and they’ll have to keep making that adjustment as they make their way through the back nine,

3.) 11th Hole: The 494-yard par-4 eleventh is the hardest hole out there and will be even tougher on Saturday. It plays uphill, with water close to the entire right side. The average score there so far is 4.449, and with only 33 percent of players hitting the green in regulation. Figure the hole to be even more elusive today, thanks to an extreme front left hole location that pinches the approach zone down to almost nothing, and water lapping the right side of the green.

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4.) 16th hole: This par 5, listed at 579 yards, will be reachable in two today thanks to the tee having been moved forward 20 yards. But the hole location is way back at the top, with a steep drop-off behind. This will be a white-knuckle shot for those who have laid up and expect to have a green-light wedge shot left to the hole. Anything long is gone, but anything short rolls away from the hole.

5.) Time: Bold prediction: they won’t finish today’s round. The last tee time of McIlroy and Y.E. Yang is slated for 3:50 p.m. EST, which gives them an 8:15 p.m. finish, just in time for 8:30 p.m. darkness.  But there’s rain in the air, and any thunderclouds will bring a stop to play, as was the case late Friday. This is Washington, D.C., after all, and such storms are common here. NBC-TV and the USGA could have started tee times earlier, but they insisted on a prime-time finish. Instead, they’ll get a Sunday morning finish. 

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