SYDNEY (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy suffered a spectacular two-hole meltdown in the third round of the Australian Open on Saturday but he was not quite ready to give up on his title defence after windy conditions kept his rivals in check.
The world number one plummeted down the leaderboard when he dropped a combined five shots at the ninth and 10th holes but even a five-over-par 76 left him just six shots off the pace going into Sunday's final round.
"I need a fast start tomorrow to have a chance," he told reporters. "It depends too on what the guys ahead of me do. I need some help. But the greens have been firmer every day. So a low score is higher than it was.
"I still feel like I can shoot a good one. I just don't know if that will be enough. I'll be trying my best. It's the last round of the season so it would be nice to make it a good one."
McIlroy had stayed among the leaders for his first eight holes, sinking a couple of clutch par putts and rebounding from a bogey at the fourth with a birdie at the next which could have been an eagle had he not lipped out with the putt.
His driving had been erratic, though, and he paid the full price for it at the ninth.
He launched his tee shot into a reedy thicket and his first attempt to extricate the ball left it wedged under some matting, forcing him to take a drop with a two-putt on the green leading to a triple bogey.
At the 10th, he found the woods from the tee, again failed to get back on the fairway with his first effort and coming up short with a 10 foot putt for bogey.
"It was a tough day obviously," he said. "The wind was up. I was doing okay, steady enough, until I got to the ninth. I hit a wayward tee shot into what I thought was a decent enough lie that I could advance the ball.
"But I didn't realise what I was standing on is not like dirt or earth. It was more like carpet. So the ball went underneath the carpet. Had it been a normal surface it would have been alright, but down there it was impossible."
Editing by John O'Brien