5 Things: U.S. Open title within reach for McIlroy

Rory McIlroy catches a ball while on the 18th green during the third round of the 111th U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.

Rory McIlroy catches a ball while on the 18th green during the third round of the 111th U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.

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BETHESDA, Md. – Five things to keep an eye on during Rory McIlroy’s final round at Congressional Country Club:

1. History in the making: Don’t bother following Rory McIlroy’s group if you’re heading out to Congressional today; it will be impossible to see him over all the media that will be tagging along with the 3:20 tee time.

After rounds of 65-66-68, McIlroy has set records for the lowest 36-hole and 54-hole U.S. Open scores and tied the record for largest 36-hole lead. He also became the first player to get to 13 under par in a U.S. Open, which he reached Friday, and broke that record Saturday, hitting 14 under in Round 3.

Entering the final round, McIlroy is eight shots ahead of Y.E. Yang, the second-largest 54-hole lead in U.S. Open history behind Tiger Woods’ 10-shot lead at Pebble Beach in 2000.

His lead was half that earlier this year at Augusta, when he blew the 54-hole lead with a final-round 80.

“At Augusta, it was all a little bit new to me, going into the final round with the lead,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t know whether to be defensive, aggressive, go for it, not go for it, but now I know what I need to do, which is a great thing to have. I have a clear mind going out there tomorrow, and I just need to stick to my game plan.”

2. Rain on Rory’s parade?: The Father’s Day forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies and muggy conditions, with a 50 percent chance of rain in the afternoon.

With the final tee time already pushed back to 3:20 p.m., it’s possible that any substantial delay could force the tournament into a Monday finish.

Sunset in Bethesda is predicted to be 8:36 p.m. Sunday.

3. Course setup: Although players praised USGA Executive Director Mike Davis’ setup earlier in the week, the overnight rains around the District of Columbia have curbed the firm and fast conditions that were expected on the weekend, allowing players to fire at more pins because of the receptive greens.

“It’s played longer tee-to-green, and the greens are receptive,” Graeme McDowell said. “So it’s not a true U.S. Open test out there, to be honest.

“Taking nothing away from (McIlroy). Rory is doing a phenomenal job out there. If you can put it in play, you’ve got a great chance to attack these bowl-shaped greens.”

4. Pairings party: McIlroy looked comfortable in Saturday’s round playing alongside Y.E. Yang, a luxury he also will have in the final round.

Had Yang not played his final nine in 2 under, McIlroy would have been paired with young Aussie Jason Day, a Masters runner-up who is playing in his first U.S. Open. Tied with Day is Lee Westwood, another accomplished, birdie-machine player who could have put added pressure on McIlroy in the final pairing.

5. Low Americans: Phil Mickelson, the last American to win a major, turned 41 this week, and it doesn’t appear that he will be replaced this week.

Robert Garrigus (5 under) is the low Yank, although he enters the final round nine shots behind McIlroy. After that, the U.S. is represented by Matt Kuchar (4 under, T-6); Heath Slocum, Davis Love III, Brandt Jobe and Bo Van Pelt, the low American at the Masters (2 under, T-10).

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