The defending champion tied for eighth, seven strokes behind winner Jason Dufner, by far his best showing at a major this year.
In a season without any titles, he gave himself an outside shot at victory with two late birdies Saturday. And as McIlroy stood on the fourth green Sunday, that chance didn’t look so crazy. He had a 4-foot birdie putt that would have moved him to 5 under, but missed it.
Hope wasn’t lost as he hit his drive on the par-4 fifth hole into the fairway. All it took was one swing of the club for that to change.
His fourth shot from 80 yards sailed over the green. His chip reached only the collar. His putt from 20 feet just missed, and when McIlroy tapped in, he had a triple-bogey 7 and had tumbled back to 1 under.
“I hit a good shot,” he said. “I did exactly what I wanted to do, but it was in the exact wrong place. But everything else feels pretty good.”
McIlroy briefly returned to 4 under with birdies on the ninth, 10th and 13th before bogeying No. 16. He had made a 15-foot birdie on the third hole to first get to 4 under.
McIlroy finished with a 70 to close the tournament at 3 under.
Considering McIlroy was in danger of missing the cut midway through the second round, the PGA could go down as the moment that he rediscovered his game and his optimism. The FedEx Cup playoffs will offer a chance to prove this week was a turnaround, not a fluke.
The 23-year-old American chose Europe’s Challenge Tour as his route to golf’s top levels. He earned promotion to the European Tour in June.
With a special exemption from the PGA of America, he teed off in this week’s PGA Championship and made the cut at a major for the first time in three tries. Grabbing a bite to eat after his third round Saturday, he saw on TV that Tiger Woods was at 4 over, the same score as Koepka. He hoped it stayed that way so the two could play together in the final round.