Saturday’s golf: McIlroy shoots 62, leads Koepka by stroke in Memphis
Memphis, Tenn. — Nobody likes missing the cut by a stroke, and doing it in a major championship at home hurts even more.
Rory McIlroy is showing he can bounce back quickly.
McIlroy shot an 8-under 62 on Saturday in the FedEx St. Jude Invitational to take a one-stroke lead over Brooks Koepka at the World Golf Championships event.
McIlroy, who missed the cut by a stroke last week in the British Open on his home turf in Northern Ireland, had a nine-birdie, one-bogey round to move from a tie for 17th to the top of the leaderboard at TPC Southwind. The man who shattered the screen of a woman’s cellphone with his opening tee shot at Royal Portrush finished the round Saturday with three straight birdies.
“I guess the pressure’s off a little bit,” McIlroy said.
“You’ve had a bad week and you go to the next week and you say, ‘OK I didn’t do this well, I didn’t do this well.’ So you’re sort of trying to focus on that rather than winning the tournament. So for me, this week I wanted to focus on neutralizing my ball flight and trying to dial in my distances. All of a sudden those two little focus points have made me play some good golf again.”
McIlroy capped his birdie spurt by rolling in a 27-footer on the par-4 18th for the lead to himself after putting his tee shot into a fairway bunker. He had a 12-under 198 total.
Two groups behind McIlroy, Koepka (64) had his chances. The world’s top-ranked player finished with three straight pars. Now Koepka and McIlroy, who played the first two rounds together, will play together Sunday for the first time in a final round.
Second-round leader Matthew Fitzpatrick (69) was third, two strokes back. Marc Leishman (63), Alex Noren (66) and Jon Rahm (68) were three shots behind.
“It is exciting,” McIlroy said. “He’s the No. 1 player in the world, four majors in the last three years. He’s the man right now. I got to play with him the last couple days and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed seeing what he can do.”
Koepka says Sunday should be fun duking it out with McIlroy with so much on the line.
“That’s who you want to go up against, especially if he’s going to be playing this good,” Koepka said.
On Saturday, the field featuring 46 of the world’s top 50 attacked a course in almost perfect condition for scoring. Birdies fell early and often.
McIlroy finished a stroke off the 61 he shot in the final round of his Canadian Open victory in June. McIlroy, who also won the Players Championship in March, spent some extra time on the driving range to adjust his wedges. He showed just how dialed in he was by hitting 14 of 18 greens in regulation and needing only 23 putts.
He birdied two of his first three holes, with his longest putt 6 feet on No. 1. He finished his front nine with a 30 after three straight birdies, and a 17-footer on the par-4 seventh was his longest of the trio.
McIlroy’s lone misstep came on No. 12 when he hit his tee shot into the water all along the par 4 and then put his third into a greenside bunker. He chipped out to 6 feet to salvage bogey. He birdied four of his final five, hitting his tee shot 190 yards to 5 feet on the par-3 14th, and left himself a 6-footer for birdie on the par-5 16th.
He rolled in a 16-footer on 17, setting up for his longest birdie putt on the final hole.
“My goal at the start of the day was to try to get to double digits under par going into (Sunday), and I bettered that by two and that’s because of those little bonus putts on 17 and 18,” McIlroy said.
Koepka had been just off when putting from 15 feet out or more dating to the British Open, here he tied for fourth. After four birdies on the front nine Saturday, he rolled in a 30-footer on the par-3 11th to go to 10 under and the lead to himself. He hit his tee shot into a fairway bunker on No. 13 and three-putted for bogey.
He came right back with back-to-back birdies to share the lead briefly with Fitzpatrick. But he missed a prime scoring chance on No. 16 and scrambled to save par after just missing the water off the 18th green.
Fitzpatrick was the first to 12 under with a birdie on No. 11. But he put the ball in the water on No. 12 on his way to double bogey and added two bogeys. He recovered with birdies on two of his final three holes in the final group with Patrick Cantlay.
“No one really wanted to watch me and Patrick because they were more about watching Rory and Brooks,” Fitzpatrick said. “So that’s completely understandable. I’d be the same.”
Englishman Paul Broadhurst birdied two of the last three holes to take a one-shot lead into the final round of the Senior British Open, which will be Tom Watson’s final appearance at the tournament.
Broadhurst had four birdies and a bogey in his third-round 3-under 67 in wet conditions at Royal Lytham & St. Annes for a 5-under 205 total.
“It was one of my better rounds in these conditions,” the 2016 champion said. “I’m not a great lover of the rain. I don’t mind playing in wind but when there’s a bit of a combination, the rain as well, I’ve not had too many great rounds in the rain, so that’s right up there today.”
American Woody Austin (68) is second, one shot off the lead.
Three-time champion Watson shot 2-over 72 and is tied for 55th at 6 over.
After the round, the 69-year-old American announced he wouldn’t be playing at the event again. In his 18 appearances, he has never missed the cut.
“I’ve thought quite long and hard about the decision I’ve made,” Watson said. “It has to do with really a pretty sensible assessment of how I play the game now. I don’t have the tools in the toolbox. I’ve mentioned that before, that sometimes you lose the tools in the toolbox. I just don’t have enough tools in the toolbox to really compete successfully.”
Watson is one of only three golfers to have won both the Senior British Open and the British Open, where he triumphed five times. Watson also said he won’t play the U.S. Senior Open again though he was not planning to retire completely.
“I’m basically declaring now that this is my last Open Championship, Senior Open Championship,” Watson said. “And I’m also going to hang up the spikes in the U.S. Senior Open.”
In June, Watson finished his 17th U.S. Senior Open at 2-under 278 by closing with a 68. It was the third time in that edition Watson had shot his age or better.
Overnight leader Wes Short Jr. finished with a 3-over 73 Saturday and is tied for third with another American Ken Duke (70), one stroke behind Austin.
Germany’s Bernhard Langer (70) was a further stroke back. Lake Orion’s Tom Gillis (73) was nine shots back going into the final round.
Cresting a wave of South Koreans atop the Evian Championship leaderboard, Hyo Joo Kim fired a third-round 65 to move one shot clear on 15-under 198.
Kim’s latest impressive round of majors golf did not quite match her very first – a record 61 here as a teenager five years ago when she took the title in her elite debut.
Top-ranked Sung Hyun Park closed the gap in second by making a birdie on the par-5 18th for a 5-under 66 on the hillside course overlooking Lake Geneva.
Four shots back in a tie for third place were seven-time major winner Inbee Park (69) and Jin Young Ko (66), the world No. 2 who won the season’s first major, the ANA Inspiration, in April.