Cam Cole: Rory McIlory still in drivers seat
Canada's Graham Delaet just five swings behind
LOUISVILLE, KY - AUGUST 09: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland prepares to hit his tee shot on the first hole during the third round of the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club on August 9, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY – They must have relaxed security at the gates of Valhalla, the happy hunting ground of the great warriors in Norse mythology, because pretty much everyone got a piece of the action Saturday at the Kentucky home of 96th PGA Championship.
Heroes or not, the rain-softened, PGA-owned golf course let them all have their way with it, and only a couple of late flourishes by Rory McIlroy and, um, Bernd Wiesberger kept Sunday’s final round from being a free-for-all of epic proportions.
Until McIlroy, still the frontrunner to win his second straight major, and the lightly regarded Wiesberger — the 29-year-old Austrian whose only previous made cut in a major was a 64th place finish at last year’s Open Championship — each made three late birdies, it seemed a couple of dozen players were positioned to take a run at the title Sunday.
Instead, it’s going to take some co-operation from McIlroy to open the door, and the list of possibles probably ends with the top 10, which miraculously includes Canada’s Graham DeLaet.
McIlroy, at 13 under par after another 67, and Wiesberger, who shot 65 to move to 12-under, will play in the final group, just ahead of pals Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson, 11- and 10-under respectively.
Of them all, Fowler, who’s finished top-five in every major this year, had the steadiest round, a bogey-free 67 that put him in great shape, once more, to nail down his first big one.
The wildest? That must have belonged to DeLaet, who started Moving Day in reverse gear. While the whole world seemed to be going low, the bearded 32-year-old pride of Weyburn, Sask., was three over par after dunking his approach shot to the par-five 7th hole.
Then he proceeded to birdie four of the next six holes and added two more coming home for a 68 that may not have got him a second of TV time, but put him in a tie for 10th with his playing partner of the day, Steve Stricker, and Welshman Jamie Donaldson, five strokes off the lead.
“It was a good day. I escaped the disaster that could have been,” said DeLaet, who called his four-in-a-row birdie binge from the 8th through 11th holes “a nice stretch, and I needed it.
“I had a lot of other looks on the back nine as well. A little disappointed on 18, my wedge kind of stuck in the ground but … it was fun.”
That stubbed chip cost him a likely birdie or he’d have been a stroke closer to the lead, but all in all, his bounce-back from nearly shooting himself out of the tournament showed plenty of the right stuff. He and Stricker will be paired again Sunday.
Day, who’s been a runner-up in three majors in his career, and McIlroy seemed to be playing each other early on, while the field ahead of them was steadily closing the gap.
At one point, when McIlroy bogeyed the 12th, there were five players tied for the lead at 10-under-par and 17 players within two strokes.
The 25-year-old Northern Irishman struggled to control his distances all day, and had to make a series of remarkable par saves before he turned it on late. Both he and Day — who had to wade across a creek at the second hole and hit a recovery shot barefoot from a marsh, knee-high in thick grass, and still saved par — had to get up-and-down from the front bunker to make birdies at the 18th.
“I was too lazy to get my shoes thrown over,” said the 26-year-old Aussie, of his adventure on No. 2.
DeLaet’s everyday partner at last year’s Presidents Cup, Day’s year has been plagued by a thumb injury and, more recently, episodes of vertigo.
“I was like, ‘We’re going to be way behind, so I might as well just hit it barefoot,’” Day said. “It was a great four there, a lucky four.”
“It was a good effort,” said McIlroy. “I wouldn’t have been walking through that river to get my ball, that’s for sure. I don’t know what’s in there.”
The conditions were so soft, Adam Scott, who’s tied for 13th but six strokes adrift, reckoned par was probably 67.
“It’s just playing so easy out there,” he said, “even your mis hits stay in the fairway if they land in the fairway, stay on the green if they land on the green.”
So when DeLaet made his double-bogey at No. 7, he was steaming mad at losing so much ground to the field. After a discussion about whether his ball crossed land before splashing down in front of the green, he marched all the way back and dropped for a penalty stroke.
“There was definitely a question about it,” DeLaet said. “It felt like I walked that par-five three times today. But I’m super-happy how I played after being three over. I could kind of see it slipping away.
“But I’ve been playing so well, and I knew I had it in me, and fortunately I was able to roll some putts in. The guys are taking it pretty low here, but at least I’m kind of still in the ballpark.”
It’s a ballpark totally unfamiliar to either Wiesberger or Mikko Ilonen, the Finn who’s in a group of four at nine-under-par with Louis Oosthuizen, Henrik Stenson and Ryan Palmer.
“Well, you know, I have it in me. I know I can perform on the big stage,”
said Wiesberger, who was able to stay under the radar, partnered with Mickelson, who also rallied late to give himself a chance Sunday.
“The golf course is giving it to us, if you play well. I just need to do it for all 18 holes,” said Mickelson. “I feel like every time I tee it up this week, I have that 7, 8, 9-under par round in me.”
But for the third time in as many starts, it will be McIlroy’s championship to lose. He’s shot 66-67-67 so far here, and the 67s were fashioned (as Tiger Woods used to say) without his A-game.
“It wasn’t as easy as I expected it to be out there today,” he said.
“Playing with the lead, you maybe can’t play with the same freedom as you would if you’re chasing. But really happy with how I finished, and to shoot another 67 without really having some of my best stuff was very pleasing.
“I wouldn’t say it’s as bad as I could play. I’ve played much worse,” he said, laughing.
“If everything does click tomorrow, then I feel like there’s a very low score in me, (but) I’ll take sort of scraping it around in 67 if it puts me in this position again.”
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