McIlroy back in the pack as Bhatia pulls clear in Texas

Ronan MacNamara

Rory McIlroy (Photo by Brennan Asplen/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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A double bogey at the first all but ended Rory McIlroy’s chances of a first PGA Tour win of the season at the Valero Texas Open but perhaps that’s a good thing ahead of the Masters. Or maybe it’s not. Nobody really knows anymore.

What we do know is that McIlroy recovered somewhat to shoot a level-par 72 and remain on five-under, ten shots behind Ashkay Bhatia who has a four shot lead as he eyes a second win.

The Holywood man threatened to get back in the mix with birdies on 2 and 6 but bogeys on 11 and 16 ended his hopes although he did finish with back to back birdies.

But it’s all about Bhatia who holds a four shot advantage over Denny McCarthy after a third round of 68.

“I hit it solid, iron play was still really good,” said Bhatia. “A couple short, you know, a couple short game shots that I wish I could have probably executed a little bit better, but you’re never going to get everything up and down. I stayed patient all day today, hit a lot of good putts. Speed was a little better today, which was nice. I made a lot of those key three-, four-, five-footers.

The 22-year-old who has been a professional since 2019 has “Race Your Race” written on his left wrist.

“I’m just going at my own pace, focusing on myself, keeping the blinders right in front of me,” he said. “I looked at it all the time.

“I was never calm today,” Bhatia admitted, “and it was the hardest thing to deal with. It’s just so hard. You feel so tense, and all these things in your stomach, your mind can kind of go one way. I kept to my game plan.”

A victory would give Bhatia the final spot in the Masters next week. He also would be exempt for the U.S. Open with his second victory since last June. Bhatia won the Barracuda Championship last summer, which was held as an Alternate Event during The Open Championship.

McCarthy has never won on the PGA Tour but he is pencilled in for his Augusta National debut next week due to ranking inside the top-50 in the world.

Bhatia’s lead is the largest in 20 years at the Valero Texas Open. McCarthy has his work cut out to chase him down.

“There’s no pressure,” McCarthy said. “He’s playing really good golf. I know I’m going to have to go out and play another solid round of golf. I’m looking forward to the challenge tomorrow. I’m going to go out and try to play some free golf.”

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