TPC Sawgrass: Rory McIlroy could be out on his own if he could negotiate the front-nine, but instead he starts Sunday 12 shots off leader Martin Kaymer

McIlroy has taken a large 112 shots through the opening nine over the course of the three days at TPC Sawgrass, but it could've been so different for the Northern Irishman

If the watery demands of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass were not hard enough, Rory McIlroy peppered the challenge with a few booby traps of his own. McIlroy needed a birdie at the 18 on Friday to make it into the weekend on the cut mark. On Saturday he dropped four shots over the opening six holes to sit flat bottom of the weekend field. This after occupying a share of second place early on Thursday on five under par.

McIlroy’s golf is characterised by epic shifts in circumstance and gear. The collapses are dramatic, the advances equally so. Six shots were shipped over five holes before his rally on Friday. And by the close Saturday he had rocketed more than 50 spots to joint 31, his third-round 69 including a hat-trick of birdies over the signature stretch at the finish.

He might want to roll up that back-nine and take it with him.  McIlroy has taken 117 strokes to negotiate the front nine over the first three days and just 96 to complete the back. Instead of starting 12 shots behind overnight leader Martin Kaymer, McIlroy would have been out on his own at the head of the field had he a clue how to play the outward nine.

Kaymer’s return to form could not have been more timely in Ryder Cup year. It was Kaymer who sank the winning putt at Medinah to complete Europe’s historic comeback in 2012. His game was already in decline then and he continued to fall down the world rankings as he wrestled with changes to his swing.

He puts the bounce in his step to thinking less and just hitting the ball. “I thought a lot the last two years about swing changes, about this and this, every shot I made I reflect on it, what I did wrong, what I did right,” said Kaymer, who began his third round on 12 under par, one ahead of Jordan Spieth.

“A couple weeks before the Masters I worked a little with my coach. He came to Phoenix, and then I went to Germany the week before, and we had a good session.  And then it just clicked a little bit. I know that I can do it.  It's just a matter of getting the confidence on the golf course and then letting it happen.”

Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose and Lee Westwood  began the third round in a share of fourth place, six shots adrift of the lead. Graeme McDowell and Jamie Donaldson were two shots further adrift after the opening six holes yesterday, giving Europe a robust presence on the leaderboard. 

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