McIlroy grinds his way into contention at the US PGA Championship
Rory McIlroy gouges and grinds his way into contention at the US PGA Championship… as LIV rebel Brooks Koepka silences the boo boys to take a one-shot advantage into final round
- McIlroy went out in the worst of the day’s rain storms and carded a 69
- The Northern Irishman will start the final round just five shots back
- Koepka holds a one-shot lead over Viktor Hovland and Corey Conners
After spending so much time in the rough and the fogs of self-doubt, Rory McIlroy has somehow hacked, gouged, grinded and putted his way into contention at the US PGA Championship.
There have been few tournaments in recent years where he has spent so long in a losing battle with his game and yet it has thrown up the whiff of possibility with one round to play at Oak Hill.
He will resume business on Sunday at one-under-par and with a decent puff of wind in his sails owing to a 69, in which he finally showed traces of his better form.
Translating that into anything more meaningful remains an extremely difficult task – Brooks Koepka leads on six under after a second straight 66, one clear of Viktor Hovland and Corey Conners, with Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Rose and Scottie Scheffler nearby – but it is vaguely astonishing McIlroy even has a chance, given it is force of will alone that propelled him for the first two-thirds of this major.
As recently as Friday he spoke of feeling ‘terrible’ over the ball, and that his weekend strategy would amount to blasting as far as he could off the tee, owing to his lack of trust in the accuracy of his driver. What transpired on Saturday was not quite so gung-ho as all that, but it was far more effective, with an improved ratio of six fairways hit out of 14 and a number of clutch putts holed.
It might ultimately add up to little more than another backdoor entry to a strong placing at a major, but at least the numbers have been far more pleasing on the eye than the swings.
Rory McIlroy moved into contention during the third round at the US PGA Championship
McIlroy went out in the worst of the day’s rain storms and still carded an impressive 69
-5 Conners, Hovland
-2 Scheffler, Rose
E Block, Suh
+1 Lowry, Fleetwood
‘It hasn’t been great,’ McIlroy said. ‘I can play a lot better. Even today, I was just aiming it down one side of the hole and hitting driver and sort of just accepting that it probably will go in the rough. It’s funny, I was a little more accepting of the ball going in the rough today, and I actually hit more fairways because of it. A little more of a carefree attitude seems to work out a little bit better.
‘I’d obviously like to be a couple of shots closer to the lead, but with how I’ve felt this week, if you had told me on Thursday night that I’d be going into Sunday in the top five and with a realistic chance to win this golf tournament, I would have taken it.’
Playing in the worst of the day’s rain storms, the world No 3 birdied the third and fifth holes to get to two under for the championship, before saving a bogey at six with a seven-footer. He rescued a par from the sand at seven, but two more bogeys followed at eight and nine after a pair of loose approaches.
At that stage, he appeared to have lost his momentum, but three birdies in five holes from the 12th brought the Northern Irishman to two under. As crucial as the strokes gained in that run was the one he saved with an 11-footer for par on 15, and again in limiting the damage with a good up-and-down bogey at 17.
His second straight round of 69 was hard earned, though that has been a given on a course that has been brutally tough all week.
Scheffler was the latest big name to feel its teeth with a 73 including four bogeys, which cost him his share of the overnight lead and dropped him to two under overall. Alongside him after 36 holes were Conners and Hovland, who each carded third-round loops of 70 to sit five under. In Conner’s case, it was more galling as he doubled the 16th when he had reached seven under.
In their place at top is a new leader and the familiar face of Koepka. The four-time major winner, who came so close at The Masters, is again carrying the look of a big-game hunter and at six under has another chance to convert.
It was notable that at the onset of his round, both Koepka and his playing partner DeChambeau received a number of jeers from the crowd, presumably because of their defections to LIV. DeChambeau managed a 70 after that introduction, while Koepka excelled with five birdies and only a single bogey.
The question is how he will handle the pressure in the final round. He has previously said he ‘choked’ on that Sunday at Augusta, so it will fascinating to see how he handles the strains of contention this time.
‘The main lesson (from The Masters) was just never think the way I thought going into the final round,’ the American said. ‘Learning what I learned at Augusta kind of helped today. I won’t do it again the rest of my career.
‘That doesn’t mean that you can’t go and play bad — you can play good, you’ll play bad but I’ll never have that mindset.’
Four off the lead was Rose, the former US Open champion who ended a four-year winless streak in February. His resurgence has continued in a stunning way at this tournament.
Rose said: ‘This is kind of my MO, I suppose – tough courses. I have won on tough golf courses historically, and I think I just manage my game a bit better. I know what’s required and that is to maybe stay a little bit more patient and understand the test that is required to play these courses.’
Brooks Koepka takes a one-shot lead into Sunday’s final round of the US PGA Championship
LIV golfers Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau were booed by some fans on the first tee
Rose’s playing partner, Michael Block, a club pro, continued to add a feel-good element to leaderboard with a third successive 70 to remain on even par, one behind McIlroy.
Having a far worse time than that cohort was world No 1 Jon Rahm. It is a rare thing to see the Spaniard struggle, but his third-round 72 left him a long way off the pace at six over and his temper reflected the situation.
The first of two meltdowns came at the fifth hole, when he mishit his chip on the par three on his way to a bogey. He swiped at a television microphone with his wedge.
Three holes later, Rahm’s anger resurfaced when he sliced his drive right and over a fence. During his search for the lost ball, he grew irate at a nearby camera crew, telling them: ‘Stop aiming at my face when I’m mad.’
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