Rory McIlroy hangs tough and holds onto lead
McIlroy will take a one shot advantage into final round but won’t have it his own way
Rory McIlroy hits his tee shot on the 14th hole at Valhalla. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Image
Jason Day of Australia walks back to his socks and shoes after hitting his ball from the rough on the other side of a creek after his drive off the second tee. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters
Rory McIlroy chips to the 12th green during the third round of the US PGA Championship at Valhalla. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy kept his foot on the pedal in Saturday’s third round of the 96th US PGA Championship; and, as a posse of players chased in pursuit, the 25-year-old Northern Irishman had to press hard and also to delve into his own bag of tricks to remain out in front in his quest for back-to-back Major titles.
In beautiful sunny conditions the championship exploded into life with a succession of players all making a move - and none as spectacularly as Austrian Bernd Wiesberger, ranked 70th in the world, who charged into contention with a bogey-free 65 that included finishing with three successive birdies. The 28-year-old finished up on 201, 12-under-par.
Rather than getting a clear run to a second Wanamaker Trophy, having won the 2012 championship at Kiawah Island, McIlroy found himself in a logjam atop the leaderboard for much of the round until breaking free with late birdies on the 15th, 16th - where he followed a 337-yard drive with a 9-iron approach from 172 yards to 12 feet - and the 18th, where he escaped a greenside bunker to hole a birdie putt, to fire a 67 for a 54-hole total of 200, 13-under-par.
When the dust had settled on a sizzling day’s play, McIlroy claimed a one stroke lead over Wiesberger to carry into the final round with Rickie Fowler, runner-up in the British Open last month, a stroke further back. Fowler shot a bogey-free 67 to lie on the 202 mark, with Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in tied-fourth on 203.
With 18 players within six shots of the lead, McIlroy will be aware of the challenge ahead as he moves into the final round seeking to continue a phenomenal run of late which featured wins in the British Open at Hoylake and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational as he returned to the world number one position.
McIlroy’s storming finish of three birdies in his closing four holes enabled him to retain his place at the front of affairs.
As for Wiesberger, who had missed the cuts in the US Open and the British Open, there was a belief that playing alongside McIlroy in the final pairing of the final round would be what he termed “a nice situation. I’m friends with Rory . . . . I’ve not been in contention in a Major championship, so I don’t know how it’s going to turn out.”
McIlroy knows only too well how these final rounds can play out, having used his disastrous final round at the 2011 US Masters as a critical part of his golfing evolution. Since then, when he has got into position, he has finished the job. In the 2011 US Open. In the 2012 US PGA. In the 2014 British Open.
“I came from three shots behind last week to win and the guys got pretty close to me at the Open Championship and they got close to me again today and I was able to respond with a great back nice . . . . it’s not the biggest lead I’ve ever had but I am still in control of this golf tournament so it’s a great place to be.”