LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Rory McIlroy celebrated his final birdie with a smile and a slight pump of his first, knowing that 8-foot putt gave him the outright lead Saturday in the PGA Championship.
“It’s a great position to be in,” he said.
He’s just not used to it being so crowded at the top. McIlroy has won all three of his majors with the lead going into the final round – by eight shots at the 2011 U.S. Open, three shots at the 2012 PGA Championship, six shots last month at the British Open.
Now comes another major test for Boy Wonder – a Sunday shootout. More rain in the morning at Valhalla allowed for a deluge of birdies in the lowest scoring round in PGA Championship history. Six players had a share of the lead at some point. McIlroy could see it on the leaderboard. He could hear it on a golf course resounding with cheers from every corner.
The 25-year-old from Northern Ireland found an extra gear, closing with three birdies on the last four holes for a 4-under 67 and a one-shot lead over Bernd Wiesberger. Right behind were Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson. Still very much in the picture were Jason Day, Henrik Stenson and Louis Oosthuizen.
“Tomorrow standing on the first tee is going to feel different than how it felt a month ago at Hoylake because you don’t have that … it is going to be a shootout,” said McIlroy, who was at 13-under 200. “You know the conditions are soft. Guys are going to make birdies. And you know that you’re going to have to make birdies as well.”
He did his part late in the round, rolling in a 20-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole, hitting 9-iron from 172 yards that landed with a splat next to the hole for an easy birdie on the 16th hole, and getting up-and-down from a bunker on the final hole. “It’s not the biggest lead I’ve ever had,” McIlroy said. “But I’m still in control of this golf tournament.”
Sunday is shaping up as a thriller, typical of the final major of the year.