LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) —
Rory McIlroy celebrated his final birdie with a smile and a slight pump
of his first, knowing that 8-foot putt gave him the outright lead
Saturday in the PGA Championship.
"It's a great position to be in," he said.
He's just not used to it being so crowded at the top.
has won all three of his majors with the lead going into the final
round — by eight shots at the 2011 U.S. Open, three shots at the 2012
PGA Championship, six shots last month at the British Open.
Now comes another major test for Boy Wonder — a Sunday shootout.
rain in the morning at Valhalla allowed for a deluge of birdies in the
lowest scoring round in PGA Championship history. Six players had a
share of the lead at some point. McIlroy could see it on the
leaderboard. He could hear it on a golf course resounding with cheers
from every corner.
The 25-year-old from Northern Ireland found an
extra gear, closing with three birdies on the last four holes for a
4-under 67 and a one-shot lead over Bernd Wiesberger. Right behind were
Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson. Still very much in the picture were
Jason Day, Henrik Stenson and Louis Oosthuizen.
on the first tee is going to feel different than how it felt a month
ago at Hoylake because you don't have that ... it is going to be a
shootout," said McIlroy, who was at 13-under 200. "You know the
conditions are soft. Guys are going to make birdies. And you know that
you're going to have to make birdies as well."
He did his part
late in the round, rolling in a 20-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole,
hitting 9-iron from 172 yards that landed with a splat next to the hole
for an easy birdie on the 16th hole, and getting up-and-down from a
bunker on the final hole.
"It's not the biggest lead I've ever had," McIlroy said. "But I'm still in control of this golf tournament."
Sunday is shaping up as a thriller, typical of the final major of the year.
closed with three straight birdies — the three putts were a combined 3
feet, 6 inches — for a 65. Playing in only his sixth major championship,
the 28-year-old Austrian now gets to play in the final group at a major
with the No. 1 player in the world.
"I've not been in a
contention in a major championship, so I don't know how it's going to
turn out," Wiesberger said. "I'm just trying to enjoy it as I did today.
... From now on, it's just a bonus, really."
Fowler, a runner-up
in the last two majors and the first player since Tiger Woods in 2005 to
finish among the top five in all three of them, gets one last crack. He
played bogey-free for a 67 and was two shots behind.
be playing in the penultimate group with Mickelson, the five-time major
champion who turned his game around with strong finish. Right when he
looked to be fading from contention, Lefty turned it on with a long
birdie putt on the 14th hole, two more birdies, and then he narrowly
missed an eagle putt on the final hole. He had a 67 and was three shots
"That birdie putt on 14 was really the one that got me
going, because I needed to finish strong to get back in it," Mickelson
Mickelson was at 10-under 203 with Day, who played in the final group with McIlroy on Saturday and had to settle for a 69.
PGA Championship does not bill itself as the toughest test in golf. It
assembles the best field of the majors and lets them slug it out over
four days. Add a super soft course from morning showers, and cheers
rained down from every corner.
The average score was 69.57, though
it felt easier to former Masters champion Adam Scott, one of nine
players with a 66 or better.
"Doesn't get any easier," said Scott, who was six behind. "Seems like 4 or 5 under is about even par today."
all the birdies, two pars early in the round were important. Day hooked
his tee shot so badly on the second hole that it cleared the stream and
landed in a bog. It eventually was found in knee-high vegetation. Day
had to remove his shoes, roll up his pants and wade across the stream to
get there. He blasted across the fairway into the rough, hit wedge onto
the green to 8 feet and made it.
The tee was moved forward on the
par-4 fourth hole, making it play 292 holes. Seven players made eagle.
McIlroy was not one of them. He hooked his tee shot into the woods and
had to take a penalty drop to get a clear look at the green. McIlroy
made a 12-footer for par to stay in the lead, and he made birdie on the
Back and forth it went all day. Fowler, Day, Wiesberger
and even Ryan Palmer and Jim Furyk took turns joining McIlroy atop the
leaderboard. Through it all, Boy Wonder never fell back.
And that's what makes it hard on everyone else chasing him Sunday.
is coming off a wire-to-wire win at the British Open and rallied to win
a World Golf Championship in his next start. He goes after a third
straight victory from a familiar position — in the lead.
Unlike his other three majors, he has hardly any margin for error and a lot more players chasing him.
take a win any way it comes," McIlroy said. "If that means having to
scrap it out with a couple people coming down the stretch, of if I can
give myself some sort of lead going down the back nine ... I don't think
it would give me extra satisfaction winning by one or two or scrapping