Here’s a stat that might play into Rory McIlroy’s hands, but only if he gets off to the final round start he desperately desires on day four of the WGC – Mexico Championship in Mexico City.
Six of the golfers this season who have led by two shots or more heading into the final round of a PGA Tour event did not win the title.
The most recent include England’s Paul Casey leading the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am by three strokes and American Justin Thomas, who last week led the Genesis Open by four strokes through 54-holes but failed to taste success.
McIlroy heads into the last round of the new season’s first real showdown trailing four shots behind American Dustin Johnson.
‘DJ’ stayed in a class of his own posting a third round 66 for a commanding four-stroke lead at 16-under par.
Johnson’s round included a second hole eagle, a fifth hole birdie, and while he momentarily opened the door on his rivals with a 10th hole double, he birdied four of his closing eight holes.
Johnson captured last month’s inaugural Saudi International and arrived in the Mexican capital having already won the inaugural Mexico event in 2017.
And despite the last two PGA Tour 54-holes leaders not managing to get the job done, Johnson remains very much favourite to not only become the first player to win twice this new season, but also become the first to win a pair of WGC – Mexico Championship titles.
“I’m doing just everything really well. I feel like I’m driving it well. I’m really controlling the distance well with the irons, and I just feel good,” said Johnson.
“The putter is pretty good too. I mean, these greens are tricky. I feel like I keep giving myself great opportunities. Hopefully I can capitalise on a few more.
“I played really well the front nine, even though I missed quite a few short birdie putts on the front nine. And on ten, I actually had a decent shot at the flag, I just misjudged the lie a little bit. I don’t know what happened, but it shot straight up in the air, and I did not think it was going to come out like that.
“Then a lot of stuff happened after that, but I ended up making a double. I didn’t let it bother me, because I knew I’m playing well, and I knew there was plenty of holes I could make birdies on.
“I’m going to come out and play exactly how I have been playing the last three days. The guys behind me, I’ve got a lot of great players behind me. I’m going to have to go out and shoot a good score probably.”
McIlroy went into day three trailing two behind Johnson but after a wild 357-yard drive some 60-yards right of the short first hole, the current World No. 8 took a further four shots for a bogey ‘5’ start to his day.
McIlroy birdied both the second and third holes but his progress was again checked by bogeys at seven and eight.
He then went to the turn after sinking his ‘putt of the day’, a 34-footer at the par-4 ninth hole.
McIlroy was then just two back of DJ after his double bogey adventure down the right side of 10 only for the American to bounce back with four birdies over his next seven holes.
In response, McIlroy birdied 10 and 11 but dropped a shot on 14 before two-putting from 12-feet for birdie on 15 and then birding from 10-feet at the next.
What McIlroy desperately now needs is to reproduce his first round Mexican start of an eagle, birdie, par and birdie that could help ensure a first PGA Tour win in some 50 weeks.
“Obviously, four shots behind DJ, it’s going to be a tall order to overcome,” he said.
“I was happy with how I played the last ten holes, being one over through the first eight and then playing the last ten in four under was nice, I gave myself plenty of chances.
“At the end of the day there was a lot of traffic on these greens. It’s hard to hole putts, and putts are sort of doing some different things. But, I need to get off to a better start tomorrow than I did today. If I can do that, hopefully I will be right back in it.
“I played the par fives better today. I played those in two-under par, which I needed to. I just stayed patient. Being six shots off the lead after eight holes today, it was hard to stay patient, but I feel like my patience was rewarded. I made some good birdies coming in and I’m still four behind.
“It’s going to be tough, especially against DJ, who is arguably the best player in the world. So, I’m going to have to go out there and just play a good round of golf and hopefully that’s good enough.”
Fellow Irishman, Shane Lowry commences his final round sharing 57th place after a horror end to his third day’s play.
Lowry was three-under par for his round standing on his 13th tee but then dropped a shot and proceeded to also double his 16th and bogey his 17th in a round of 72 for a five-over total.