It took Rory McIlroy just 44-feet (13.6 metres) to find his way into the overtaking lane on day three of the BMW Championship at Caves Valley in Baltimore.
That was the length of McIlroy’s putt from the fringe at the opening green, the first of an impressive seven birdies in a bogey-free third round 65 for a 17-under par tally that lifted him into a share of fourth. McIlroy heads to the final round of the penultimate event of the 2020/21 season trailing four shots between the leading duo of Bryson DeChambeau (67) and fellow American Patrick Cantlay (66) who lead by three at 21-under par.
The start of the third round was delayed with a number of players still to complete their second round that was interrupted by an early afternoon storm and then when play resumed, there were still a few to complete their round when darkness halted play.
In speaking of DeChambeau, the first 11 holes of his third round was a ‘catch me if you can’ display as golf’s ‘mad scientist’ again brought the course to its knees, putting daylight between himself and the field. But it all changed over two holes for DeChambeau finding a water hazard in taking a bogey at the par-5 12th and then posting a double-bogey in finding the water guarding the green at the par-3 13th.
From four in front, DeChambeau found himself one behind as playing partner Cantlay birdied both 12 and 13 before the duo walked off 18 tied at the top.
After McIlroy birdied the first, he then holed a 15-footer for birdie at the second to move to 12-under par before being right back in the fight for second place in holing a five-footer for birdie at five and then a 30-footer from pin-high right of the pin at the par-3 sixth hole.
McIlroy was now 14-under but at that stage of his round was trailing eight shots behind DeChambeau who posted back-to-back eagles at four and five. McIlroy made the turn with three pars having found three fairways and taken 12 putts (1 x no putt, 4 x 1 putts).
A 220-yard 6-iron to 28-feet and then two putts for birdie at the par-5 12th hole moved McIlroy to 15-under par but now six behind DeChambeau who birdied the 11th to be now seven-under for his round and still with two par-5s to play.
Make that 16-under with McIlroy holing a five-and-a-half footer at the par-3 13th for a sixth birdie of his round and moving to 16-under par ahead of moving to seven-under in sending a six-footer to the hole on 16.
McIlroy then stood over a 22-foot birdie putt from behind the flag at the last but agonised when his ball actually slipped partially below the hole but stayed out. He tossed his putter in front of him but didn’t catch it and then had to repair the slight impression the putter had made on the green.
“I didn’t waste as many shots as I did yesterday,” said McIlroy.
“I maybe didn’t drive it quite as good as I did yesterday, but when I put myself in position today, I was able to take advantage and make the birdie from just off the green. So, I scored a little bit better. I don’t feel like my game was that much different. Maybe holed a couple extra putts.
“But yeah, if you go out here and play remotely well, you’re going to have a chance to shoot a low score. I don’t feel like I did anything spectacularly well today, but just everything was solid.”
And looking ahead to next week’s Tour Championship at Altanta with McIlroy currently projected to move to 20th on the FedEx standings, McIlroy commented:
“This will be the third FedExCup that we’ve done this staggered start, and I think I was four behind Brooks (Koepka) the first year, and then I was maybe minus — was I minus 4 or minus 5 starting last year, and this year depending on how I play tomorrow, I might start a little further back,” he said.
“But it’s okay because I go out and shoot 6-under next Thursday and the leader shoots 2-over, and all of a sudden you’re right in the golf tournament. I like the format. I think that all 30 players going into next week should feel like they have a good chance to win. Even when you are starting 10 back because you shoot a good one that first day, you’re right back in it,” he added, having hit 7 fairways and needed 28 putts over his 18 holes. (1 no putt, 8 x 1 putts, 9 x 2 putts)
While McIlroy looks assured of heading to next week’s season-ending Tour Championship, Shane Lowry’s PGA Tour season looks to be coming to a close on Sunday in Baltimore.
Lowry, while affected by the rain delay on Friday, did manage to complete his round before darkness fell in posting a second round 68 but now after a third round 71 the Clara golfer is projected to end his season 54th on the money list.
Lowry will head to day four at six-under par in a tie for 40th but will now need to go really low on day four to be assured of moving onto Atlanta. Lowry’s best PGA Tour season finish was 33rd in 2019 and helped by capturing the Open Championship at Royal Portrush.
- Full scoring HERE