Rory McIlroy is just one round shy of capturing a sixth national ‘Open’ championship title after a brilliant bogey-free third round 64 to be sharing the lead with a round to play in the RBC Canadian Open.
McIlroy, and contesting the Canadian event for a first time in his career, superbly warmed-up for next week’s U.S. Open title with three outward birdies and just as many homeward birdies to move to the clubhouse lead at 13-under par on the Hamilton Golf Club course. The four-time Major winner was then joined by Americans Matt Kuchar (67) and fellow U.S. Open champ, Webb Simpson (67).
Shane Lowry brilliantly produced a four-under par 66 to be locked in a three-way tie in fourth place at 12-under par with overwhelming crowd favourite and Canadian, Adam Hadwin (67) along with American Brandt Snedeker (69).
McIlroy kick-started his third day in powerhouse style sending a booming downhill opening drive all of 371-yards to leave himself just a 31-yard wedge shot that he landed four-feet shy of the flagstick for his first birdie of the day.
He then holed a 22-footer for birdie at the par-4 5th hole and then brilliantly moved to three-under par for the day when McIlroy holed a 70-foot chip shot pin-high left of the flagstick at the eighth hole.
McIlroy kept the run going into this back nine moving to four-under for this day holing a 17-footer for birdie at the par-4 11th and went to five-under with his shot of the day, a 125-yard wedge shot at the par-4 15th to just 10-inches.
A sixth birdie followed, and even though McIlroy left his eagle putt short, when he two-putted from 20-feet at the par-5 18th. McIlroy then pared the last in a superb 64 and sign for his lowest PGA Tour score in 31 rounds and going back to a 63 on the first day of the WGC – Mexico Championship.
“The golf course is still a little soft with the rain that we had at the start of the week but then I controlled my ball pretty well today,” he said.
“I drove it well. Drove it in the fairway for the most part, which you need to do around here. That’s something I didn’t do last week in the Memorial so a big improvement there. And then from there, just keep giving myself chances and picking off the birdies when I can. I did that well today. I stayed patient. Made a couple really good up and downs on the back nine when I needed to and it added up to a great score and gives me a chance to win tomorrow.”
A key to McIlroy’s good form in Canada, and particularly after the embarrassment of missing the cut last week at The Memorial, is putting a four wedge in his bag.
“It’s worked well having a fourth wedge in the bag, and particularly for some of those in between yardages,” he said. “Instead of having to when you feel like I am really taking a lot off something or having to hit something really hard, I now have that extra shot where it probably taking five or 10-yards off a shot then trying to take 15 or 20-yards off a shot.
“So, those gaps have been a little less and have enabled me to hit my numbers a little easier.”
McIlroy arrived in Canada having won five national ‘Open’ titles and they include:-
2011 – U.S. Open
2011 – Hong Kong Open
2013 – Australian Open
2014 – The Open Championship
2016 – Irish Open
He now is just one round shy of becoming not only the first Irishman but the first European since England’s Peter Oosterhuis in 1981 to the Canadian Open.
“I feel like I’m adopted Canadian this week as I have got great support and it’s awesome but then everyone has who has teed-up this week,” he said.
“Their basketball team (Toronto Raptures) is about to win a NBA championship which is pretty cool, so I am excited going out there tomorrow playing in that atmosphere.
“Also I’m standing here playing in the Canadian Open and I’m not playing in my own this year, which is something — I’ve been very loyal and dedicated to the Irish Open.
“I felt with the Open Championship being at Portrush it was a chance for me to prepare more the way I wanted to. They are. They’re very important. They’re the oldest championships in our game for the most part.
“Someone said to me earlier, Do you know how many national opens you’ve won, I could count them and I’ve won five. If I were able to win tomorrow that would be my sixth and that would be something I would be very proud of.”
And while European focus will be on McIlroy, Lowry cannot be discounted as he seeks just a second success Stateside after capturing the 2015 WGC – Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio.
Lowry’s third round in Hamilton was a mix of a second hole bogey before then producing four birdies from his fourth to ninth holes, and then managing to birdie the 12th ahead of six closing pars.
“My confidence level right now is pretty good,” said Lowry. “I had two weeks after and didn’t really do that much. I played a few games of golf with friends and stuff, but it was the most relaxed two weeks off I’ve had all year. Just sort of seemed like I came back out this week and didn’t really know how I was going to play.
“I just went about my business and managed to get off to a good start on Thursday. Kept it going, kept the momentum going. The big thing this week is I’m holing a few putts. Holed a great putt for par on the last there, which is great for momentum going into tomorrow.
“Hopefully I can build on it and keep it going.”
Graeme McDowell, and like McIlroy, birdied his first but the Ulsterman never really recovered from a second hole double-bogey ‘6’ ahead of dropping a further shot at the ninth.
G Mac eventually signed for level par 70 and drop two places to be tied in ninth place on eight-under par, but more importantly just one place shy of securing a tee time into next month’s Open Championship.