Defending champion Rory McIlroy admitted a lack of competitive action had caught up with him after he failed to build on a brilliant start to his third round of the US PGA Championship on Saturday.
McIlroy began the day nine shots off the lead but jumped up the leaderboard with birdies on the second and fourth before holing from 65 feet for an eagle on the fifth.
However, the world number one then bogeyed the sixth and eighth and mixed two more bogeys with four birdies on the back nine to card a 68 and finish six under par at Whistling Straits.
“I got off to a dream start, really,” said McIlroy, who had not played since the US Open in June after rupturing an ankle ligament playing football with friends on July 4. “To be four under through five, having not birdied the first and third, was a bonus.
“I knew six was a chance and the way the wind was on seven and eight, they weren’t playing as tough as they had been earlier in the week. If you get a good tee shot down on nine, you’ve got a wedge in your hand there and all of a sudden you’re thinking about shooting 30 on the front nine and then you’ve got some chances on the back nine.
“But to give those shots away again on six and eight, you really have to battle to shoot four under in the end. I guess that probably shows just a lack of competitiveness considering this is the first week back in a few weeks.
“But really positive signs out there. Hitting the ball great. I putted much better today thankfully. So if I keep showing improvement each and every day like I have done, it’s a good sign going into the rest of the season.”
The 26-year-old was seven shots off the lead when he signed his card and acknowledged his chances of becoming the second player in the modern era to defend the US PGA title were somewhat remote.
“It’s all about setting a realistic goal and target,” McIlroy added. “I know that the way the back nine’s playing there, the leaders could be 14, 15 under by the time the day ends. So, that would leave me eight or nine shots back.
“In the back of your mind, you still think you have a chance, because that’s what your competitive nature tells you. But if you’re looking at it realistically, I want to go out there tomorrow and shoot the best score that I’ve shot this week.
“I’ve stood still a little on Thursday and Friday, but definitely improved today and you want to improve on that again tomorrow. If I do that, I think that, as a whole, the week would be somewhat of a success. It wouldn’t be quite what I wanted, but as I said, I can take positives from it and move on.”
McIlroy will skip the first FedEx Cup play-off event and return to action in the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston from September 4-7.