Thursday, May 24, 2018

Rory McIlroy leads by 1 at PGA Championship

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Rory McIlroy played the kind of golf Saturday that typically would put him in control at a major championship. Staked to a one-shot lead in the PGA Championship, he made three birdies over his last four holes for 4-under 67.

All that did was allow him to stay in front — barely.

More rain in the morning allowed for a deluge of birdies during a third round so wild that six players had a share of the lead at one point. The cheers for so many birdies resounding across the back nine made McIlroy, in the final pairing as the second-round leader, realize it was time to step up.

He rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt at No. 15. His approach from 172 yards landed with a splat next to the hole on 16 for an easy birdie, and he took a one-shot lead over Bernd Wiesberger by getting up-and-down from a front bunker on the par-5 18th.

McIlroy, at 13-under 200 and going for his third straight tournament win, loves the view from the top. He has won all three of his majors with the lead.

"It's not the biggest lead I've ever had," said McIlroy, who led by eight, three and six after 54 holes in his previous major wins. "But I'm still in control of this golf tournament. It's a great place to be going into (today)."

Today could be a thriller. Eight players were within four shots of the lead, including Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Louis Oosthuizen.

Wiesberger closed with three straight birdies — the putts were a combined 3 feet, 6 inches — for 65. Playing in only his sixth major championship, and with no wins in seven PGA Tour starts, the 28-year-old Austrian gets to play in the final group at a major with the No. 1 player in the world.

"From now on, it's just a bonus, really," said Wiesberger, who plays mostly on the European Tour.

Fowler, a runnerup in the past two majors and this year the first player since Tiger Woods to finish among the top five in all three of the previous majors, played bogey-free for 67 and was two shots behind. "I didn't get a whole lot out of the round on the back nine," he said, "but I played a lot of good golf. I'm looking forward to (today)."

Mickelson, a five-time major champion, turned his game around with a strong finish. When he looked to be fading from contention, he charged back in with a long birdie putt on 14 followed by two more birdies. He narrowly missed an eagle putt on the final hole. He had 67 and was three shots behind.

"That birdie putt on 14 was really the one that got me going, because I needed to finish strong to get back in it," said Mickelson, at 10 under with Jason Day, who played in the final group with McIlroy and shot 69.

For all the birdies, two early pars were important.

Day hooked his tee shot so badly on No. 2 that it cleared the stream and landed in a bog. The ball was found in knee-high vegetation. Day removed his shoes, rolled up his pant legs and waded across the stream to get to it. After caddie Colin Swatton tossed him a wedge across the water, Day blasted across the fairway into the rough, hit wedge onto the green to 8 feet and made par.

"I was too lazy to actually get my shoes thrown over," Day said. "I either hit it in my bare feet or put my shoes on and have to take my shoes off. I was like, 'We're going to be behind, way behind, so I may as well just hit it with no shoes on.' "

At the 292-yard par-4 fourth, McIlroy hooked his tee shot into the woods and had to take a penalty drop to get a clear look at the green. He made a 12-footer for par to stay in the lead, and he birdied the next hole.

Back and forth it went all day. Fowler, Day, Wiesberger, Ryan Palmer and Jim Furyk took turns joining McIlroy atop the leaderboard.

"I'll take a win any way it comes," McIlroy said.