CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The similarities are eerie, and Rory McIlroy certainly wouldn't mind if the same storyline played out on Sunday at Quail Hollow.
After making the cut on the number Friday, McIlroy found his form early Saturday morning in the third round of the Wells Fargo Championship, shooting 7-under-par 65 to vault up the leaderboard and give himself a Sunday shot at victory. At day's end, the Northern Irishman was T-11, 7 shots off J.B. Holmes' 54-hole lead.
Four years ago, McIlroy made the cut on the number, shot 66 in the third round here and then fired a final-round 62 to win his first PGA Tour title at age 20.
"It's a very different mentality," McIlroy said after he had moved into a tie for sixth, 3 shots off the lead when he finished some two hours ahead of the leaders even teeing off.
"You're second or third group Saturday morning and nothing to lose. I hit a few more drivers out there, when I would have hit fairway woods the first couple of days, and just really aggressive, trying to make as many birdies as you can and get back into the tournament, and I was able to do that today.
"Tomorrow I will probably be chasing again, so it will probably be the same thing, but once you get yourself in the mix and you're leading or co-leading, it becomes a little different. Obviously you're still trying to make birdies but at the same time trying to limit the mistakes. So maybe play a little more cautiously, but it's nice to go out on a Saturday morning and just give it your all and shoot a low one."
McIlroy, who this week dropped out of the top 10 in the world to No. 11, put himself in danger of missing the cut Friday when he played the first five holes in 4 over par. He played in even par from there, but his score of 76 left him at 1 over for 36 holes -- and in the same position he was in four years ago, 10 shots back of the lead.
That meant an early-morning Saturday tee time, the third group on the course, alongside Rickie Fowler. McIlroy made eight birdies and a bogey and birdied all four par-5s. He parred the last three holes, and things might have been better: McIlroy's approach to the par-4 16th took one hop, hit the flagstick and bounded back to 18 feet. He missed the birdie putt.
"It was a great shot and maybe a little bit unfortunate that I didn't make birdie there," he said. "But if keep hitting wedge shots like that, I'm not going to complain."
A putting adjustment was the big key to Saturday's round. Coming into the tournament, McIlroy lamented his putting problems at the Masters, where he was third from last in the field with the flatstick, yet managed to tie for eighth. A slew of missed putts inside 12 feet, he said, kept him from contending.
McIlroy seemed to figure it out during Thursday's 69, but he took 31 putts in the second round and headed to the practice green afterward.
"I worked for 45 minutes to an hour on the putting green [Friday] after I got done, and I just tried to take what I was doing there onto the course and trust it and not really care if the ball was going in or not going in, and I had to trust what I was doing," he said. "It seemed to work. Try and keep that going."
McIlroy needed just 25 putts and had 11 one-putt greens in Round 3.
It wasn't lost on McIlroy that he was in the exact same position after two rounds in 2010 and that his Saturday score was actually a stroke better than it was four years ago.
Seems like a good formula?
"I don't want to get too used to that at this tournament," he said. "I would rather be up there after two days, but, yeah, it was good. I played really well, played solid tee to green, but the difference was the putting. I holed putts.
"If I'm still within 4 or 5 shots going into tomorrow, I think I'll have a chance," he said. "We'll see what happens."