Playing with the control, command and confidence expected of the world's top ranked player, McIlroy hit back at the links-style layout that had humbled him with a four-under 66 during a round that had flirted with a majors record-equalling 63.

Sitting on four-over and eight strokes off the lead when the day began, McIlroy surged up the leaderboard with six birdies and within two shots of the lead before two bogeys over his final four holes brought a shuddering end the drama.

"I feel like it (U.S. Open) is sort of one that got away, especially the way I putted this week," said McIlroy. "I don't think I've ever hit the ball as well in a major championship. "It bodes well for the rest of the summer, the way I've hit the ball this week."

With the United States Golf Association getting slammed from all corners over the quality and setup of the venue, officials relented to the criticism by moving tees forward and offering accessible pin positions for the final round allowing golfers to go on the attack.

McIlroy was quick to launch an all-out assault. Taking full advantage of early ideal conditions, the Northern Irishman made his first birdie at the third then stormed into the turn picking up shots at seven and eight.

He kept his foot on the gas going into the back nine with two more birdies at 10 and 12 to find himself five under on the day and up near the top of the leaderboard at Chambers Bay.

When McIlroy rolled in a monster 70-foot putt for birdie number six on the 13th hole it triggered a thunderous ovation that echoed across Puget Sound. But for all the dazzling putts McIlroy drained he was left to rue two he missed from inside 10 feet, at the third and 14th.

The miss from five-feet at 14 hurt but it was the bogey that followed at the par-three 15th that proved to be the real momentum killer. Another dropped shot at 17 ended any thought of finishing the round in contention.

"I really didn't think it was 14, it's not a hole that you're thinking to pick up a shot," said McIlroy. "I don't think it derailed the momentum. "The missed putt on 15, for the first bogey of the day, that hurt."

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