Rory McIlroy is just one round shy in becoming not only the first Irishman to capture the Genesis Invitational but match the Riviera victory feat of Nick Faldo in joining the Englishman as the third equal longest World No. 1.
The Holywood-born McIlroy created his own slice ‘tinsel town’ entertainment in posting a third round 68 and end the day locked into a three-way share the lead at 10-under in the Euro 8.54m event.
The reigning World No. 1 went into the ‘traditional’ moving third day trailing in second place and two shots behind American Matt Kuchar.
‘Kuch’ got the start he sought with birdies at the first and seventh hole and then moved to three-under for his round in taking a birdie at the par-5 11th.
However, the wheels began starting to wobble for the 41-year old when he proceeded to drop shots at 13, 15 and the par-3 16th hole. Kuchar pulled one back with a birdie on 17 ahead of signing for 70 and a 10-under par tally.
McIlroy and Kuchar joined Aussie Adam Scott (67) sharing the lead and with Scott looking to win back-to-back titles after capturing a second Australian PGA Championship in his last event that ended just three days prior to Christmas.
McIlroy’s round included an opening hole birdie for a second day running before back-to-back birdies at the eighth and ninth holes where he holed putts of around eight feet at each of the par-4s.
The four-time Major winner went to four-under for his round in also holing a nine-footer at the par-4 13th but gave one back at the next, the par-3 14th when his tee shot found a front greenside bunker.
McIlroy was then rock solid over his closing four holes and while finding the left rough and short at the uphill 18th, and where he could have dropped a shot, he landed his 55-foot chip shot to just two-feet to save par.
“I just so happy to make a four on 18 after finding myself out-of-position with my tee shot and I really didn’t get into a good position with my second either as it was a tricky chip shot there.
“It’s always a bit of a guessing-game hitting out of the rough here at Riviera but it came out very nicely and up to a couple of feet, and I could just tap it in for a great par save to end the day, so very happy with that. “The thing also since I have gone to a softer ball 18 months ago I have definitely hit a lot more better shots like that.
“Overall, I managed to get off to a good start to be three-under through nine holes and I then had good chances to make birdie on 10 and 11 though I didn’t, but it was a great birdie on 13.
“The good now is that it’s nice to be in a final group again as I was in the final group at Torrey Pines a couple of weeks ago, so I am getting used to those.”
McIlroy has already tasted success on this year’s 2019/20 PGA Tour with a maiden victory in the WGC – HSBC Champions event in Shanghai. Now he’s sharing pole position as the Ulsterman seeks to become the first European since 1997 when Faldo won at Riviera.
If McIlroy should win, it will be his 19th Tour success and the 28th of this pro career while he will tie Faldo at the equal third longest serving World No. 1 and then surely break clear of Faldo at next week’s WGC – Mexico Championship.
Adam Scott also is a former Riviera champion and while he’s won 30 titles in his pro career including 13 on the PGA Tour including becoming the first Australian to win the Masters. However there remains the bitter disappointment of capturing in 2005 the then Nissan Open.
Bad weather reduced the event that year to just two rounds and while Scott won in a play-off he was denied World Ranking points along with a two-year Tour exemption that very much annoyed the very even-tempered Aussie.
Scott produced an indifferent start to day three with a birdie and a pair of bogeys over his opening five holes but then played the seventh to the 18th holes in five-under including an important birdie at the last. “After the slow start I got to seven feeling like it was time to get going and if I was going to be in this thing, and I managed to kick-start a come back with that birdie on seven,” he said.
“So, a good few birdies around the start of the inward nine kept me in there while that birdie on the last was a huge bonus.
“I knew the birdie on 18 would be important also to get me in the last group tomorrow alongside Rory.”
And while Scott will want to win a full Riviera four-round let’s not forget it was McIlroy in December 2013 who came from behind to deny Scott the Australian Open title at Royal Sydney. McIlroy stayed in Sydney for the remainder of the month before ‘popping the question’ to Caroline Woznacki while the two were on Sydney Harbour enjoying the New Year’s fireworks display