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Slim chance?

U.S. Open champ Rory McIlroy struggled, like much of the field, to a 4-over 74 at Royal St. George's on Saturday. At 4 over for the tournament, McIlroy knows his chance of winning back-to-back majors isn't likely.

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Rory McIlroy hasn't given up hope of winning the Open just yet, but he knows the chance is slim. (Getty Images)

SANDWICH, England (AP) -- Rory McIlroy knows a thing or two about golfing records, setting a bunch of them on his way to a stirring eight-stroke victory at the U.S. Open last month.

He has another record in mind that lets him believe, at nine strokes off the pace, he's not quite out of this Open Championship yet.

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"What did Paul Lawrie come back from? Ten shots?" McIlroy asked rhetorically, in reference to the Scot's final-day recovery at Carnoustie in 1999. "Well, it's been done before so I'll just have to keep the hope."

The golfing clinic he administered at Congressional seemed a dim and distant memory on Saturday as he trudged his way through the final holes of a rain-soaked third round at Royal St. George's.

A double-bogey 7 at No. 14, coming after a nasty kick right off the undulating fairway sent his drive out of bounds, left McIlroy down.

With nothing more to give and beaten by the elements, he slumped off the 18th green to sign for a 4-over 74.

It left him nine shots behind leader Darren Clarke, his compatriot and golfing mentor heading into the final day, when more severe weather is forecast early on.

"If the conditions are decent, I could see myself going out and shooting maybe 4 or 5 under, and getting in the hunt," McIlroy said, still attempting to sound positive.

"If the conditions are similar to what they were this morning, then it's going to be very tough."

It wasn't just that drive on No. 14 that he lamented.

For three straight rounds, McIlroy has played in the day's toughest weather, coming to a head on Saturday when heavy rain and gusting winds upward of 30 mph (50 kph) arrived as he was walking up the fairway on No. 2.

On came the thicker waterproofs. And padded mitts between shots.

"It seems this tournament more so than any other, you need to get a good draw and it hasn't really worked out for me this week," he said. "It was really tough out there this morning, and I felt for the first 13 holes, to get through those in 2 over was a pretty decent effort."

Then came the par-5 No. 14, which troubled most of the 71-strong field on Saturday.

"I mean, you've done so well for 13 holes to keep yourself in it -- you've got half of Kent on your left and you hit it right. It was a bit disappointing. A tough one to take," he said.

"The moment I hit it, I thought it was out of bounds, but then it started to hang on and I thought it could be OK. I think it bounced in bounds and then went out."

If McIlroy doesn't engineer a miraculous recovery, there's no doubt where his allegiances would lie.

"It's fantastic," McIlory said of Clarke's surprise run at Sandwich. "He's waited a long time to win that major and it would be great if this week was the week where he could get his first one."