NORTON (United States) • It was like watching tennis superstar Roger Federer practise hours before a night match at the US Open. Only that every stroke took on early Sunday morning by Rory McIlroy, a friend of Federer's, counted.
Several dozen fans made it to the first hole at TPC Boston in time to watch the Northern Irishman begin his third round at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
The gallery following him and his playing competitor, Brendon Todd, quickly grew to a couple of hundred spectators.
In general, they were so quiet that they might as well have had their heads bowed in prayer.
Other than a nine-foot birdie putt on the third hole, McIlroy was not doing much to rouse his flock.
From tee to green, he was solid but he could not decipher the speed of the greens.
In three days, he had five three-putts, including one from 47 feet on the eighth hole on Sunday on his way to an even-par 71.
"I've just been trying to get something going, and there's nothing happening," he said, adding: "Just haven't really made anything."
On one hole, a fan waiting for McIlroy to catch up to his drive in the fairway said to her companion: "There's usually more noise."
And, typically, more people.
It has been a bad summer for the Northern Irishman, who on Sunday played only his seventh round since June 21.
Jason Day, who can become the third player in three weeks to hold the top ranking with a triumph in this second-round FedExCup play-offs event, has played 23 competitive rounds in that span, logging three victories.
Sweden's Henrik Stenson carded a 65 to take the 54-hole lead at 13-under-par 200.
His score equalled the second-lowest round of the day behind Hunter Mahan's 64.
Rickie Fowler, who posted a 67, is one stroke behind Stenson.
Sean O'Hair and Matt Jones, who shot 67 and 68, are two back.
Unless McIlroy, who is at 215, can leapfrog 54 players in the final round to squeeze into the top 10, he will pass the world No. 1 crown back to American Jordan Spieth.
The latter had missed the cut for the second straight tournament.
Day, the FedExCup play-offs points leader, had the leaden gait of a fading pacesetter in his round of 73.
It halted his streak of scores of par or better at 22. He is four-under for the tournament.
Spieth spoke on Saturday of needing to regain the cockiness in his step. Day, who had one double bogey on the front and three bogeys on the back to go with three birdies, looked as if he was trying to fake his swagger until he felt it.
"I just wish I had a little bit more energy," said Day.
Nobody has a more confident stride than McIlroy when he is feeling good. His friend and fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell has described McIlroy's walk as his "trademark strut."
His step had a little less bounce to it on Sunday but McIlroy's rolling gait still made him easy to identify from 100 metres away.
"I walk how I'm feeling," said the golfer, adding: "If I had been playing a lot more, I'd probably be more annoyed."
Because it is only his second tournament in the past 10 weeks, McIlroy sees no reason to mope.
"I'm just worried about getting my game in better shape," he said, "so that I can compete and try and win golf tournaments."
NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS