McIlroy moves into pole position
Golf:Shots define champions. Seve Ballesteros out of the car park at Lytham in 1979. Tiger Woods’s chip to the 16th in the Masters of 2005. What will it be from the US PGA Championshop at Kiawah Island? If Rory McIlroy – tied for the lead with Viajy Singh – goes on to win the weather-interrupted final Major of the season, will it be the tee-shot that lodged into a decaying tree that becomes the iconic image?
Before a storm came in to halt the third round of the US PGA at Kiawah Island, forcing the championship committee to abandon play for the day and those left to finish their third rounds handed early-morning returns to the Ocean Course to get the job done, McIlroy had created a storm of his own in knocking in five birdies in eight holes in an aggressive charge towards the title.
McIlroy had birdies on the first, second, fifth, seventh and eighth holes – before a bogey on the ninth blighted his card – but the defining incident came on the driveable Par 4 third where his tee-shot lodged under the bark of a tree branch.
“I got up there and I knew the line of the ball was right on the tree. I was just like, ‘well, if it hit the tree, I'm sure it's just somewhere around here in these long grass things or in the wood chip or whatever’.
We'd been looking for it for maybe about three minutes and then one of the guys that was working for the TV came over and said, ‘you know, it's actually stuck in the tree’.
“I’'m like,’ how can it be stuck in this thing? There's no branches, no leaves for it to be stuck in’. But it had wedged itself in between the tree bark and the actual tree, so I was just happy to get it up and down for four and move on to the next. I thought it was very important to do that,” recalled McIlroy.
Indeed, that par save gave McIlroy as much momentum as any of the birdies and, when the play was suspended for the day, he had played the front nine in 32 strokes and joined Singh, who completed seven holes, on six-under-par for the championship.
On a good moving day for the Irish players, McIlroy led the charge. But he had considerable back-up. Graeme McDowell was two-under on his round through 11 holes (and on that mark for the championship) when his round was interrupted by the dark storm clouds that had been forecast, while Pádraig Harrington just about got his round completed – a 69 for 215, one under – that moved him into tied-11th.
McIlroy, who showed good form in last week’s Bridgestone Invitational, remarked: “I’ve put myself into a nice position, that’s all I really wanted to do. To just get myself into position . . . . I’ve come here with a bit of confidence from the way I played last week (in Akron) and it’s been nice to take that into this week and show it out on the golf course. There’s still a lot of guys with a chance to win, still a long way to go.”
For his part, McDowell – who marked his tee shot on the 12th in the left rough – managed to move into contention too and remarked,”it's wide open.” Indeed, there are 18 players within five shots of the lead, although one of them – Tiger Woods – was probably more pleased to hear the siren halting play than anyone else. Woods was three-over on his round through seven holes and had dropped down to tied-11th on one-under.
“I got off to a rough start and couldn’t get anything going. I’ll come back (Sunday) and see what happens. There are a lot of holes left to play,” said Woods.
Harrington – playing alongside Bo Van Pelt who grabbed a 67 – was among those who made an upward move. The Dubliner overcame a double-bogey on the 10th to sign for a 69 that put him on the 215, one under par, mark and up to a share of 11th at the time of the suspension.
“It was a good round overall, some highs, but made a very bad double bogey on 10,” conceded Harrington, who at least salvaged something out of the round late on when he pitched in from a sand area on the 17th for a birdie. Harrington and Van Pelt were the last two players to finish before the klaxon sounded to suspend play.
McIlroy, though, had put himself into prime position to maintain an extraordinary run of Irish winners in the Majors in recent years. “The way I'm looking at it, I'm going into the final day of the final Major of the season tied for the lead, so I can't ask for much more. I don't care if it's going to be 27 holes, 18 holes, 36 holes; I'm just happy to be going in there in a good position.”
The 26 players who hadn’t completed their third rounds are scheduled to do so this morning – play resuming at 7.30am local time (12.30pm Irish) – with a two-tee start and groups of three being put in place for the final round.