(Reuters) - Rory McIlroy came within a whisker of making the first albatross of his career but had to settle for an eagle at the par-five 18th in the third round at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Massachusetts on Sunday.

McIlroy judged his four-iron approach shot almost perfectly, the ball landing about six feet in front of the pin before rolling up and catching the lip of the hole.

But it stubbornly refused to drop, leaving the Northern Irishman with a three-foot putt which he duly knocked in for a five-under-par 66 at the TPC Boston.

“It would have been my first albatross, or double eagle as you folk call it (in the United States),” the four-times major champion, who is tied for seventh place, told Golf Channel.

“I had 212 yards back into the wind. It was a great shot. The wind was gusting a little bit. I just hit a four-iron as good as I could and luckily the result ended up the way I wanted.”

Well almost the way he wanted, and it showed that the former world number one is not too far away from recapturing his old form, after a relatively quiet year.

Nobody has ever questioned the ball-striking ability of McIlroy, 27, who has been held back at times by an inconsistent putter, slipping to fifth in the world.

He is happier with his stroke after tweaking his grip last week, and will need a hot putter on Monday to have a chance of posting a 12th PGA Tour victory, starting the final round six strokes behind English leader Paul Casey.

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ken Ferris)