Birkdale 'a step in the right direction' as McIlroy struggles to challenge Spieth

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Rory McIlroy says The Open has been a step in the right direction as the world number four prepares to play catch-up on the leaders again during the final day of a major championship.

The Northern Irishman has not added to his haul of four majors since 2014, when he claimed both The Open and US PGA Championship titles.

Indeed, the prestigious event on home soil has been a source of particular frustration for the 28-year-old, who was not able to defend the Claret Jug at St Andrews in 2015 due to an injury suffered playing football with friends.

He was tied fifth at Royal Troon last year, and was unable to influence proceedings as winner Henrik Stenson and runner-up Phil Mickelson staged a thrilling duel over the final 18 holes on the south Ayrshire coast.

There has been a familiar feel to McIlroy's challenge this week in Southport, where he made five bogeys in the first six holes of his opening round, leaving him fighting to remain in contention right from the off.

He battled back to post a round of 71 on Thursday, followed by a 68 and 69 on Friday and Saturday respectively to sit tied for 11th at two under, nine back from rival Jordan Spieth, who holds a three-stroke lead going into Sunday's final round.

And McIlroy will be playing more in hope than expectation yet again when he tees off alongside Ross Fisher on Sunday afternoon. 

Asked what his objective will be for the final day, McIlroy said: "Just play a good round of golf and see where that finishes me, I guess.

"Just go out there and play well and try to limit the mistakes, and get off to a fast start again like I've done the last couple of days and just try to keep it going.

"This week has been a step in the right direction, there's no doubt about it. And I need to pick myself up, play a good round... and hope for some bad weather. And hope for some guys to struggle."

After finishing tied seventh at the Masters in April, McIlroy has missed three cuts in the five events he has played, including the U.S. Open, leaving him working hard to solve issues with his game.

"It's almost there, but still just a few sloppy swings," he said.

"Just stuff like that. And that's just more mechanics and where my golf swing is right now and just fighting that left shot a little bit.

"So left pins are a bit of a struggle right now. And I'm trying to trust what I'm doing and trust my swing."