Rory McIlroy holds a one-shot lead over Bernd Wiesberger of Austria after the third round of the PGA Championship, where five-time major winner Phil Mickelson is among nine players within four shots of the lead.
McIlroy, who shot 4-under 67 today at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, is coming off wins at the British Open and Bridgestone Invitational that pushed him to No. 1 in the world ranking.
“I’m in the best position I can be,” McIlroy told reporters. “I’d rather be the guy with the one-shot lead being chased. It’s going to be a shootout.”
The 25-year-old Northern Irishman is seeking to become the fourth-youngest golfer with four major titles after Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Morris Jr. With a victory, McIlroy would also become the fifth golfer since 1980 to win three straight U.S. PGA Tour starts, joining Woods, Tom Watson, David Duval and Vijay Singh.
Austria’s Wiesberger, who made the cut in one of his five previous major tournament appearances, shot a bogey-free 6-under 65 and is one ahead of American Rickie Fowler.
Mickelson, the 2005 PGA winner, and Jason Day of Australia are tied for fourth at 10 under.
Henrik Stenson of Sweden, Finland’s Mikko Ilonen, American Ryan Palmer and 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa are another shot back.
Overnight rain softened the Nicklaus-designed Valhalla course and a lack of wind produced favorable scoring conditions.
“Doesn’t get any easier,” said Adam Scott of Australia, who entered the tournament as the oddsmakers’ second favorite behind McIlroy. He shot 5 under today to reach 7 under overall. “It’s pretty soft.”
McIlroy took sole possession of the lead at 13 under with a birdie on the par-5 18th hole, where he sank a putt of seven feet (two meters) after hitting an approach shot into a bunker in front of the green. He had three birdies over his closing four holes, including the 16th, which he reached with a 9-iron from 172 yards after a drive of 337 yards.
Wiesberger, 28, is the least-known player on a leaderboard filled with marquee names. A two-time winner on the European PGA Tour, Wiesberger is No. 70 in the world ranking. He has three top-10 finishes this year in Europe, including a runner-up in the Lyoness Open, where he lost a playoff to Mikael Lundberg.
“I didn’t expect any of this really coming into this week,” Wiesberger, who played the third round with Mickelson, told reporters. “It’s a new situation for me in a major championship.”
Mickelson moved up the leaderboard with birdies on holes 14, 15, 16 and 18 after bogeys on holes 11 and 12.
Woods is no longer in the tournament after missing the 36-hole cut at a major golf tournament for the fourth time since turning professional in 1996.
McIlroy and Day, who played in the final group, each scrambled for pars.
Day saved a par on the second hole after hitting his tee shot into tall grass left of a creek lining the edge of the fairway. Day and his caddie, Colin Swatton, both removed their shoes and socks to cross the creek to locate his ball. After hitting his second shot in bare feet with his pants pulled up over his knees, Day reached the green with his third and sank an 11-foot par putt.
McIlroy hit a 3-wood into the trees on the left side of the par-4 fourth hole, which had been shortened to 290 yards. After a one-shot penalty, he was able to save par moments after Day sank a birdie putt. Both birdied the par-4 fifth hole to reach 10 under overall.
McIlroy reclaimed the lead with birdies on the seventh and 10th holes, while Day dropped to 9 under with a bogey on the sixth. He finished the day with two birdies and bogey over the closing nine holes for a 2-under 69.
Fowler, who finished in the top five of the season’s three previous majors, had four birdies and no bogeys to match McIlroy’s 67.