Brooks Koepka’s Saturday charge leaves Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry chasing at US PGA

McIlroy five off the lead after he signed for a 69 for tied seventh

The role of the pursuer isn’t always one to envy, but that is exactly what Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry face in playing catch-up on 54-hole leader Brooks Koepka heading into Sunday’s final round of the 105th US PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in upstate New York.

“I always say about Majors, you just need to hang around. Just hang around, make yourself a nuisance to somebody. Hang around and hopefully you’ll get to do something,” said a determined Lowry, perhaps taking a leaf out of Justin Thomas’s playbook in how the American made a late charge to get his hands on the Wanamaker Trophy a year ago.

This time, Koepka – a month after his Masters travails – shot added a second successive 66 to claim the outright third round leadership on six-under-par 204, a stroke clear of Norway’s Viktor Hovland and Canada’s Corey Conners.

Koepka again used the homeward run as the strong point of his bid for glory, coming home with three birdies in an error-free back nine, while his move into the lead was aided late-on by Connors running up a double-bogey on the 16th after his recovery from a fairway bunker became embedded in the bank and, although getting relief, he paid a heavy penalty in what proved the only shots he dropped in a round of 70.


One of the big surprises on an unsettled weather day was that of Scottie Scheffler, who was four-over on his front nine and had to wait until the 14th for a birdie in running up a 73 for 208 that dropped him back to a tied for fifth with Justin Rose.

On a day when heavy, persistent rain became a different kind of nuisance factor, McIlroy – still without his A-Game by any means – signed for a 69 for 209 [tied-seventh], while Lowry shot a third round 71 for 211 (tied-10th) with ground to make up but neither without hope. But it remains a tall, if not impossible, ask.

Certainly, McIlroy – who struggled on his front nine but gathered some momentum with three birdies in a five holes stretch coming home in his third round – felt his mental game rather than his golf game had kept him within touching distance, five behind Koepka.

As McIlroy, the world number three, put it, “I still don’t feel like my game is in great shape. I’ve held it together well. I’ve [holed] some good putts. I’ve scored well. I probably hit it a little better off the tee today than I did the first couple of days, but I think this tournament and especially in these conditions and on this golf course, the non-physical parts of the game I think are way more important this week than the physical parts of the game, and I think I’ve done those well, and that’s the reason that I’m in a decent position.”

McIlroy, who hasn’t won a Major since his 2014 triumph and at least in the frame after the disappointment of his missed cut at the Masters last month, added: “I need to keep hope. I have to believe that there is a [low] score.”

For Lowry, the task of playing catch-up is enough tougher if he is to have any chance of adding another Major to his CV but at least a chip-in par save on the 18th to sign for his third round 71 enabled him to entertain hope.

“You can play your way out of a tournament on a day like today and I don’t think I have done that,” said Lowry, especially lamenting his play of the drivable Par 4 14th where he again ran up a bogey, adding: “If I can go out tomorrow and do a good front nine all of a sudden you are in the tournament going into he back nine of a Sunday. It was great out there with Rory, a great atmosphere and a great place to play. He has a sniff tomorrow as well so hopefully one of us can do it.”

Pádraig Harrington showed great fortitude when, playing in the worse of the conditions, he covered the front nine of his third round in 43 but came home in 32 to sign for a 75 for 218, in tied-58th.

With one eye on next week’s US Seniors PGA, the Dubliner admitted he had gone into the back nine with the aim of breaking 80: “You are trying to dig deep, once you know you can’t win the tournament it is all about every shot is practice, training. There is no substitute for hitting shots with a card in your hand. You can hit as many shots as you like on the practice range but there is no substitute for playing real golf. That’s what you see when you go into the back nine like that is an opportunity to get your game in shape,” said Harrington.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times