By Andrew Both
FARMINGDALE, N.Y., May 18 (Reuters) - As Brooks Koepka prepared to start the third round at the PGA Championship with a commanding seven-stroke lead, Rory McIlroy was long done with his day, reduced to being an after-thought at a tournament he entered as the best player in the world this year.
McIlroy shot a one-under-par 69 that would have been significantly better with a co-operative putter but, for someone whose career revolves around the majors, it was a jarring experience to tee off among the dew-sweepers.
But the four-times major champion, who made the halfway cut with nothing to spare, said he had not earned the right to a later tee time, as the scorecard spoke for itself.
"I haven't played well enough to be out there, and that's the way it is," the Northern Irishman said when asked if he wished he was in Koepka's position.
"I feel that would be very entitled (to think that).
"It's awesome (the way Koepka is playing). I watched most of it yesterday afternoon. He's definitely, in these events, playing on a different level than most anyone else."
Saturday dawned magnificent on Long Island, with bright sunshine and a light breeze helping to dry out a course drenched with rain earlier in the week.
The greens remained soft, allowing players to be aggressive with their approach shots.
But low scores remained elusive on a long and demanding course that is never a pushover, no matter what the conditions, with two-under-par rounds of 68 by Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Irishman Shane Lowry the best of the earlier finishers.
McIlroy for his part started well with an eagle at the par-five fourth, where he sank a 30-foot putt.
When he made the turn, he had played the previous 18 holes in seven under par, spread over two days but the back nine proved a more difficult equation.
He three-putted the 14th hole and then after almost holing out from 190 yards at the par-four 15th with a magnificent second shot, missed the seven-foot birdie putt.
Clearly frustrated, he was distracted on the 16th tee by spectators, nearly all of whom seemed more interested in capturing him with their smartphones than actually watching.
"Guys, can you turn your phones down," McIlroy said in quiet exasperation.
Less than an hour later he was done, signing for a two-over 212 total.
He predicted some good scores by the leaders.
"Overall, with the sun, (the course is) firming up a little bit," he said.
"I still think it's pretty scorable. If Brooks hits it the way he did it the first couple of days, I can see him shooting a good score in the 60s, and if he does that, obviously it's going to be very hard to get near him." (Reporting by Andrew Both; editing by Clare Fallon)