AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy said on Saturday he needs to play the round of his life to complete the career grand slam but the world number two does not plan to take too many risks on a notoriously demanding Augusta National layout.
The 27-year-old Northern Irishman will start the final round on Sunday six strokes behind the leaders, his European Ryder Cup team mates Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia.
McIlroy looked as though a sizzling score might be in the cards when he made a hot start to his third round, but he ultimately ended the day further back than where he started after a one-under-par 71 that he thought could have been a 67 if not for some wasted opportunities.
However, he still thinks he can clinch the Green Jacket and become the sixth man to complete the career modern grand slam.
"I can, yeah, but I need to play the round of my life tomorrow," said McIlroy. "But again you can't start going for shots that aren't there. You still need to play smart when you have to."
The four-times major champion was itching to start the third round given the piece of bad luck he endured on Friday when his approach to the 18th slammed into the pin and rebounded 20 yards from the hole leading to a bogey.
And he wasted no time making his move on Saturday, using his prodigious power at the par-five second, where he smashed a fairway-metal second shot from 280 yards to set up a two-putt tap-in birdie.
He also birdied the par-four third after almost driving the green, but his charge started to peter out when he three-putted from long range for bogey at the par-four fifth after misclubbing with his approach shot.
"It's as simple as hitting the wrong club on the fifth hole," McIlroy, who switched to a nine-iron from an eight-iron, said when asked about his inability to build on his hot start.
"The margins are so fine around this golf course. And I was just on the wrong side of it sometimes today."
McIlroy stumbled further with a double-bogey at the seventh, before repairing the damage with birdies at the eighth and 12th holes.
McIlroy, who took a four-shot lead into the final round of the 2011 Masters before unraveling with a closing 80, is hoping his experience will help him to make up ground.
"Even if you're not playing that well, if your head is in the right place you'll always have a chance ... especially around this place. It's heightened even more, just because you can hear what's going on around you," McIlroy said about the roars and groans of Augusta's massive galleries.
"So you really have to focus on yourself and not worry too much about what everyone else is doing."
Editing by Andrew Both