Without a PGA win in the last 18 months, Rory McIlroy leads by two heading into the final round of the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, FL with a great chance to end that drought. McIlroy fired a third round 1-under 69 on Saturday to stand at 12 under par, just ahead of Russell Henley.
His third-round was not easy even though it started out hot, with two birdies in the first three holes. But Rory carded a bogey at the par-4 sixth hole, followed by a bogey that could have been much worse on the seventh hole, a 226 yard par-3. McIlroy had to take a 1-shot unplayable lie penalty from underneath a palmetto bush that still left him lying on pine straw, 20 yards from an elevated green. He deftly laid the ball to within 8 feet and made the putt to escape with bogey, and later called it one of his best up-and-downs ever. His front nine score was an even-par 35.
McIlroy played the back nine with two birdies and one bogey, highlighted by a clutch 5-iron against the wind on 16 that stopped 10 feet from the flag. He finished 1-under for the back nine, and if not for narrow misses for birdies on the final two holes, Rory McIlroy’s two-shot leading heading into the final round of the Honda Classic could have been even bigger.
For Rory, a win Sunday would be his first since late 2012 on a major tour, and his first on the PGA Tour since the BMW Championship in 2012. As McIlroy looked ahead at the final round of the Honda he downplayed it saying that he looks at it as his seventh PGA victory, “No bigger, no smaller.” At 12-under par, McIlroy’s closest competitor is Henley who has one PGA Tour win and stands at -10. Russell Knox is one more shot back at 9-under, and Jhonatten Vegas is at -8. There are some bigger names lurking at 7-under, including Keegan Bradley, Luke Donald, Stuart Appleby and Ryan Palmer.
Fans of Tiger Woods are hoping for a charge from their hero on Sunday. Woods put himself in contention on Saturday with a 5-under 65 that matched the low round of the day and is tied for 17th at 5-under par. The world’s number-1 player took advantage of calm conditions early in the day to move up 49 spots on the leaderboard. Seven others join him at that position, including Fredrick Jacobsen and Zach Johnson. History is not on Tiger’s side, however, as he has never come back from more than a 5 shot deficit on the final day to win a PGA Tour event.
There is some history on Rory McIlroy’s side as he heads into the final round of the Honda Classic on Sunday. The last four times he has held the lead after 54 holes in a PGA tournament, McIlroy has gone on to win. That streak includes a win in this same tournament in 2012. It was after that Honda Classic win that Rory ascended to number-one in the world rankings for the first time.
By Chuck Podhaisky