NAPA (California) • Rory McIlroy had a narrow escape on Saturday when a drive from big-hitting Argentinian Emiliano Grillo missed him by centimetres during the third round of the Frys.com Open in California.
Golf's world No. 3 had just played a chip shot from next to the green at the driveable par-four 17th when Grillo's drive landed close to a surprised McIlroy, who clearly received no warning that he was in danger of being hit by the ball.
McIlroy's playing competitor Kyle Reifers, who was standing next to the Northern Irishman, raised his hands angrily after the near miss. McIlroy, who shrugged off the incident to drain a 10-footer to save par, later absolved Grillo of any blame.
"Missed me by a couple of inches. Would've put me out of my misery, to be honest with you," he said after shooting a second consecutive 71 to slide out of contention of the 2015-16 PGA Tour season opener.
"I mean, they obviously thought the green was clear. Not his fault. You can't see much from back there."
Golf Channel commentator Peter Jacobsen was not so forgiving. "I just can't imagine what Grillo was thinking back there on the tee," he said.
Grillo told Golf Channel that no official had been on the tee at the 296-yard hole, which requires a blind drive, and that his threesome had made a group decision to hit.
The green is blocked from view from the tee by a clump of pine trees.
Four-time Major champion McIlroy returned to action just two months ago after missing the British Open because of a ruptured left ankle ligament he suffered playing football.
He trails leader Brendan Steele by eight shots. Steele shot a three-under 69 to retain the lead on 202.
He holds a one-shot advantage over fellow Americans Andrew Loupe (63) and Kevin Na (64), with world No. 7 Justin Rose (68) among a group of eight two shots back at the Silverado Resort.
"I'm really happy with the state of my game all the way through the bag," Steele, seeking a second PGA Tour win, told PGA Tour Radio.