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Rory McIlroy eager to chase down Bryson DeChambeau for a U.S. Open title on Sunday

Rory McIlroy said he was doing a lot of scoreboard watching Saturday at the U.S. Open.

And, yes, he was paying close attention to Bryson DeChambeau.

When McIlroy finished up his third round at Pinehurst No. 2, getting in with a 1-under 69, DeChambeau was the leader and rolling along at 8 under par for the tournament, 4 shots ahead of McIlroy.

While doing a quick NBC interview, McIlroy said, there was a monitor showing DeChambeau playing the par-4 16th hole.

“I know what happened there,” he said.

What happened was DeChambeau took a double-bogey 6, losing 2 shots of his lead. DeChambeau then responded with a birdie at the par-3 17th and parred the last hole for a 3-under 67 and 3-shot lead over McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay and Matthieu Pavon of France.

Those are the kind of fluctuations that can and will occur at Pinehurst No. 2. Odds are, Sunday’s final round will be filled with such fluctuations as the players attempt to carefully work their way around the golf course, mindful of what can happen at every turn and trying to dodge any disasters and big numbers.

“I love the test that Pinehurst is presenting,” McIlroy said Saturday. “You’ve got to focus and concentrate on every single shot out there. It’s the way a U.S. Open should be like.

“Lots of holes are playing very, very difficult. No matter what happens, I feel like, 2 shots, 3 shots, 4 shots, I’ll have a great chance tomorrow.”

That’s all the golfers could hope for when the week began at Pinehurst: go into Sunday’s final round, in the heat, with a chance to win.

McIlroy opened the week with a first-round 65, tying Cantlay for the lead. McIlroy followed with a 72 on Friday, then the 69 Saturday.

While it can seem hard to fathom, McIlroy has not won a major title since 2014, when he claimed both the British Open and the PGA Championship.

That came after his monumental U.S. Open victory at Congressional Country Club outside Washington, D.C., in 2011 — he set the Open scoring record and won by 8 shots — and a first PGA title, in 2012.

He was ranked No. 1 in the world and has held the top position for more than a 100 weeks during his career. McIlroy hasn’t been able to win a Masters and complete a career Grand Slam — the one major blemish on his golf resume — but has been one of the world’s most accomplished and publicized golfers for almost two decades, winning 40 titles worldwide and 26 on the PGA Tour.

After missing the cut in three straight U.S. Opens, from 2016 to 2018, McIlroy has finished in the top nine in the past five and was second to Wyndham Clark last year at Los Angeles Country Club.

McIlroy said No. 2 was a little “crispy” Saturday but indicated it was just the kind of U.S. Open test he expected and has embraced.

“I’m embracing the questions that the golf course has,” he said. “There are holes when you have to be aggressive, holes where you have to be conservative. There are hole locations you can take on and hole locations you have to stay away from.

“It tests your chipping, it tests your putting. It obviously tests your mental fortitude more than any other golf tournament. So, yeah, as I said, it’s the style of golf that I started trying to embrace over these last few years and a reason my performance at the U.S. Open has been much improved.”

At 35, he may be ready to win one again. His golf form is there. His personal life is in order.

There is not as much rhetoric about the PGA Tour and the rival LIV tour, although Sunday’s final round will have a leading PGA Tour man (McIlroy) chasing a leading LIV star (DeChambeau).

“I’ve been in this position many times before and hopefully tomorrow I produce the golf that’s needed to go one better,” he said.