RORY ROARS AHEAD

Aug. 09, 2014 @ 09:21 PM

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.

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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.

Wiesberger closed with three straight birdies — the three putts were a combined 3 feet, 6 inches — for a 65. Playing in only his sixth major championship, the 28-year-old Austrian now gets to play in the final group at a major with the No. 1 player in the world.

“I’ve not been in a contention in a major championship, so I don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” Wiesberger said. “I’m just trying to enjoy it as I did today. ... From now on, it’s just a bonus, really.”

Fowler, a runner-up in the last two majors and the first player since Tiger Woods in 2005 to finish among the top five in all three of them, gets one last crack. He played bogey-free for a 67 and was two shots behind.

Fowler will be playing in the penultimate group with Mickelson, the five-time major champion who turned his game around with strong finish. Right when he looked to be fading from contention, Lefty turned it on with a long birdie putt on the 14th hole, two more birdies, and then he narrowly missed an eagle putt on the final hole. He had a 67 and was three shots behind.

“That birdie putt on 14 was really the one that got me going, because I needed to finish strong to get back in it,” Mickelson said.

Mickelson was at 10-under 203 with Day, who played in the final group with McIlroy on Saturday and had to settle for a 69.

The PGA Championship does not bill itself as the toughest test in golf. It assembles the best field of the majors and lets them slug it out over four days. Add a super soft course from morning showers, and cheers rained down from every corner.

The average score was 69.57, though it felt easier to former Masters champion Adam Scott, one of nine players with a 66 or better.

“Doesn’t get any easier,” said Scott, who was six behind. “Seems like 4 or 5 under is about even par today.”

For all the birdies, two pars early in the round were important. Day hooked his tee shot so badly on the second hole that it cleared the stream and landed in a bog. It eventually was found in knee-high vegetation. Day had to remove his shoes, roll up his pants and wade across the stream to get there. He blasted across the fairway into the rough, hit wedge onto the green to 8 feet and made it.

The tee was moved forward on the par-4 fourth hole, making it play 292 holes. Seven players made eagle. McIlroy was not one of them. He hooked his tee shot into the woods and had to take a penalty drop to get a clear look at the green. McIlroy made a 12-footer for par to stay in the lead, and he made birdie on the next hole.

Back and forth it went all day. Fowler, Day, Wiesberger and even Ryan Palmer and Jim Furyk took turns joining McIlroy atop the leaderboard. Through it all, Boy Wonder never fell back.

And that’s what makes it hard on everyone else chasing him Sunday.

McIlroy is coming off a wire-to-wire win at the British Open and rallied to win a World Golf Championship in his next start. He goes after a third straight victory from a familiar position — in the lead.

Unlike his other three majors, he has hardly any margin for error and a lot more players chasing him.

“I’ll take a win any way it comes,” McIlroy said. “If that means having to scrap it out with a couple people coming down the stretch, of if I can give myself some sort of lead going down the back nine ... I don’t think it would give me extra satisfaction winning by one or two or scrapping it out.”


AN AUSTRIAN WHO’S BETTER AT GOLF THAN SKIING

BY JIM LITKE, AP Sports Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Most Americans will see his name near the top of the leaderboard — Bernd Wiesberger — and wonder whether they’ve stumbled onto a ski race.

Try the PGA Championship.

“Well, yeah, we’re not too many Austrians out on tour,” the 28-year-old European Tour member said.

Wiesberger, it turns out, is an accomplished skier. But at the moment, he’d like to be better known for his golf. After following up back-back-to-back 68s with a 65 in the third round to reach 12 under, Wiesberger will get the chance when he goes off in the final pairing Sunday with leader Rory McIlroy in the season’s final major.

“I’ve not been in contention in a major championship, so I don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” he said. “I’m just trying to enjoy as I did today. I was in a great situation going into the round this afternoon and I felt quite calm.

“I’m friends with Rory and I’m sure it’s going to be a nice situation out there tomorrow again,” he added. “Hopefully do the things well that I did today. Yeah, just enjoy myself. From now on, it’s just a bonus, really.”

Wiesberger was introduced to golf as a toddler in Oberwart, a small town (population: 7,000) about an hour and a half east of the Austrian capital of Vienna, where his father owned a sporting goods store. By age 8, he was roaming the practice range at a nearby golf course, then started playing seriously in his early teens, when he segued in the nation’s junior development programs.

Wiesberger won several amateur tournaments, but broke his collarbone in a 2003 skiing accident that nearly derailed his golfing career. He still gets out on the slopes when his schedule allows.

“I would give myself probably a high single (-digit) handicap, eight probably,” Wiesberger laughed. “I’m decent. I’m not going to fall unless somebody runs me over.”

Wiesberger’s day got off to a good start when CBS on-course announcer Peter Kostis approached him on the range to pass along best wishes from a mutual acquaintance, Austrian ski great and now avid golfer Franz Klammer. Wiesberger reckoned that roughly 100,000 of his eight million countrymen play golf “and about 90,000 would be (watching) on the TV by now.

“At least I hope so,” he added, smiling. “I’m sure Franz is rooting as well.”

Wiesberger’s day only got better from there. Playing alongside one of his golfing heroes, Phil Mickelson — Ernie Els is the other — he rolled to six birdies, including the final three holes. His approach play was so sharp that the total distance of those last three birdie putts was 3 feet, 6 inches.

“Nice birdies,” Wiesberger said, “the easiest you could have it.”

Wiesberger will be spotting McIlroy a stroke and the Northern Irishman, who won the British Open and last week at Firestone, is tough to catch when he’s in front. The next toughest thing about Wiesberger’s assignment could be keeping a straight face when the announcer on the first tee tries to pronounce his name (Behr’-nt Vees-burger).

Just before he left the interview room, Wiesberger was asked for some of the funnier variations of his name he’s heard in the states.

“I’m not going to say those because then I’ll (hear) them all the time tomorrow,” he said with a laugh.


SUNDAY’S PGA CHAMPIONSHIP TEE TIMES

At Valhalla Golf Club
Louisville, Ky.
All Times EDT
Sunday
Fourth Round


8:25 a.m. — Shane Lowry, Brendon Todd

8:35 a.m. — Bubba Watson, Chris Stroud

8:45 a.m. — Robert Karlsson, Shawn Stefani

8:55 a.m. — Freddie Jacobson, Rafael Cabrera-Bello

9:05 a.m. — Colin Montgomerie, Brendan Steele

9:15 a.m. — Graeme McDowell, Marc Leishman

9:25 a.m. — Kevin Stadler, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano

9:35 a.m. — Koumei Oda, Francesco Molinari

9:45 a.m. — Pat Perez, Jason Bohn

9:55 a.m. — Vijay Singh, Hideki Matsuyama

10:05 a.m. — Fabrizio Zanotti, Brendon de Jonge

10:15 a.m. — Thorbjorn Olesen, Ian Poulter

10:25 a.m. — Richard Sterne, Zach Johnson

10:45 a.m. — Cameron Tringale, Matt Jones

10:55 a.m. — Scott Brown, Geoff Ogilvy

11:05 a.m. — Patrick Reed, Jerry Kelly

11:15 a.m. — Edoardo Molinari, Branden Grace

11:25 a.m. — Luke Donald, Kenny Perry

11:35 a.m. — Chris Wood, Daniel Summerhays

11:45 a.m. — Charl Schwartzel, J.B. Holmes

11:55 a.m. — Jonas Blixt, Brian Harman

12:15 p.m. — Nick Watney, Justin Rose

12:25 p.m. — Alexander Levy,Billy Horschel

12:35 p.m. — Jimmy Walker, Ernie Els

12:45 p.m. — Sergio Garcia, Ryan Moore

12:55 p.m. — Marc Warren, Brooks Koepka

1:05 p.m. — Bill Haas, Victor Dubuisson

1:15 p.m. — Brandt Snedeker, Danny Willett

1:25 p.m. — Joost Luiten, Jim Furyk

1:45 p.m. — Kevin Chappell, Lee Westwood

1:55 p.m. — Hunter Mahan, Adam Scott

2:05 p.m. — Graham DeLaet, Steve Stricker

2:15 p.m. — Ryan Palmer, Jamie Donaldson

2:25 p.m. — Henrik Stenson, Mikko Ilonen

2:35 p.m. — Jason Day, Louis Oosthuizen

2:45 p.m. — Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson

2:55 p.m. — Rory McIlroy, Bernd Wiesberger