Rory McIlroy was more focussed on building momentum than thinking about chasing down Collin Morikawa over the third round of the Workday WGC at The Concession in Bradenton, Florida.
Morikawa leads by just two shots after signing for a 67 and a 15-under par tally while his fellow American duo of Billy Horschel (69) and Brooks Koepka (70) share second place on 13-under par with a third American in Webb Simpson (69) in fourth on 12-under.
McIlroy superbly fought back from a second hole double-bogey to complete his closing seven holes in five-under including holing a 12-footer for an eagle ‘3’ at 13 in his round of 66.
Morikawa, the reigning PGA champion, will strive to become the first player to match car-crash recovering Tiger Woods heading into the final round of the Workday WGC at The Concession.
Only one player and that’s Woods, won both a major and a WGC by age 25 with Woods achieving the feat in 1997 with a first Masters success and then in August 1999 he captured the first of 18 WGC titles just four months shy of turning 24.
Morikawa was aged 23 in winning last year’s PGA crown and turned 24 on 6th February.
McIlroy got his day off to a flying start having pulled off a brilliant birdie at the first after sending a 127-yard second shot from pine needles well into the trees down the right side of the hole, clearing all the trouble to find the green and then holed a 14-footer.
However, it was frustration with a capital ‘F’ finding water guarding the green at the next and walking off with a double-bogey ‘6’.
For the next four holes, McIlroy was like the forgotten golfer with four pars before back-to-back before birdies at seven and eight and a fourth birdie of his day at the 10th.
The World No. 8 dropped a shot at the next but then reminded everyone of his super talent landing a 65-foot greenside bunker shot at the short par-4 12th hole to just 18-inches for a fifth birdie of the day.
McIlroy then sounded the ‘I’m back’ bell bringing the 533-yard 15th to its knees in finding the green in two and holing a 12-footer for an eagle ‘3’ and was now only three shots shy of second place but seven back of Morikawa.
McIlroy then holed a 15-footer appropriately at the par-5 15th to move to five-under before going to six-under in landing a 108-yard second third shot at the par-5 17th to officially 11-inches.
He then made amends for Friday’s sloppy final hole finish in comfortably two-putting the 18th for a par and a then share of second place on 11-under par.
“It looked like the first few holes was going to be pretty much the last couple of days with a good birdie at the first and gave it straight back with a double at two,” said McIlroy.
“But once I got into the round, and got something going, one of the biggest things for me has been managing to get up-and-down to save par when I have needed to and then I holed the putt for birdie on 10 and while I dropped a shot at 11, I managed to birdie 12 and get the eagle on 13.
“So, I have been shooting myself in the foot a little bit with some of my mistakes I have been making but over the last 12 holes I started making some good birdies, also the eagle and some good pars.
In staring down at hopefully ending a now 15-month winless drought, and before Morikawa opened the door slightly on his rivals with bogeys on 13 and 17. McIlroy was quizzed if he would change his strategy in chasing down Morikawa.
“No, I just have to think about myself and try to just string together another good round of golf,” said McIlroy.
“It’s all about keeping the momentum and the round going.
“He’s five ahead of me (now four). I wouldn’t really — I need to go out and just play another good round of golf and see where that leaves me at the end of the day.”
And one of those delighted with McIlroy’s round was fellow Irishman Paul McGinley, calling the action for SKY Sports.
“It’s been a good day for McIlroy and you can’t discount him tomorrow,” McGinley said.
“Only the one mistake today and that was the second. And there’s only one player who’s had as many birdies over the three days and that’s Morikawa.
“The good thing is that Rory is trending in the right direction and just needs to eradicate those hurtful mistakes.”
Shane Lowry tees-up on day four looking to at least head to next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational with a first sub-70 of his four days.
Lowry could only muster two birdies on day three but also took six bogeys in a four-over par 76 to drop to a share of 50th place at two-over par.