Rory McIlroy draws level with Billy Horschel in battle for play-off payday
World No 1 admits to grinding it out after carding a 67 to move to nine under
Rory McIlroy chips on to the 17th green during the third round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA
Rory McIlroy is just 18 holes away from an amazing €8.8 million payday after claiming a share of the lead with Billy Horschel at the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
McIlroy and Horschel were among the five players who arrived at East Lake knowing victory would not only be worth the first prize of €1.1 million but also secure the overall FedEx Cup title and and a €7.7 million bonus.
And the duo remained firmly in control of their own destiny after Saturday’s third round left them tied for the lead on nine under par, two ahead of Jim Furyk, whose last win came in this event in 2010 and gave him the bumper payday.
McIlroy, who carded a three-under 67, is determined to win the FedEx Cup for the first time to put the seal on a brilliant season and told Sky Sports 4: “That’s what I have been talking about the last few weeks.
“The Tour Championship is the biggest one of these play-offs that carries the most points. I felt a little weary coming in this week and by no means have I played my best golf. I’ve found it a real grind and struggled at times but I am tied for the lead going into the last day and I can’t ask for any more.”
Horschel began the day with a two-shot lead over McIlroy after consecutive rounds of 66, but saw that cut in half as McIlroy holed from four feet for a birdie on the first.
McIlroy, who has already won four times this season – including two Major championships – instantly gave that shot back by three-putting the second from 50 feet.
And with Horschel holing from similar distance for an unlikely birdie, the gap was briefly three shots before McIlroy holed from 20 feet for a birdie on the third.
Horschel, who won the BMW Championship last week, has vowed to stay and complete the tournament even if his wife goes into premature labour and he boosted his chances of a win with a birdie from six feet on the eighth before both players two-putted the par-five ninth to maintain the three-shot gap.
That gap looked certain to be back to two shots when Horschel failed to get up and down from right of the 10th green, but McIlroy missed from three feet for par and had to hole from further away to avoid one of the two four-putts he suffered last week.
McIlroy had surprisingly not birdied either of the par fives in the first two rounds, but made amends by following his birdie on the ninth on Saturday with an eagle on the 15th by holing from 25 feet.
“I hadn’t really played the par fives well all week and it was a big putt for me,” McIlroy added after his 67. “That was a big turning point which got me tied for the lead. It was pretty scrappy coming in but I managed to salvage the pars (on 17 and 18). I feel like my short game really saved me today.”
Horschel had reached 11 under par following birdies on the second, eighth and ninth, but bogeys on the 10th and 13th in a round of 69 allowed several more players back into contention, with England’s Justin Rose, American Rickie Fowler and Australian Jason Day all three off the lead on six under.
Rose was two over par after an opening 72 but carded back-to-back rounds of 66 and said: “This is all I could have asked for after the first round. I said I needed to shoot two rounds in the mid-60s to give myself a chance on Sunday and that’s what I have done.
“I feel like I have not done much wrong. My short game has been a lot sharper when I have been off the green and then I’m just picking my chances as and when they have come. I like this course from tee to green, I think it suits my eye and I’m always going to give myself some chances.
Fowler has finished in the top five in all four Majors this year but still has just one PGA Tour win to his name.
The 25-year-old said: “It would be awesome (to get a win). We’re in a good position. It would have been nice to have been a bit closer with a couple more putts going in towards the end of the day, but maybe we’re saving those until tomorrow.”