LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Rory McIlroy had plenty of challengers Saturday in the third round of the PGA Championship.
After overnight rain softened the course, there were low scores all over the place at Valhalla Golf Club. Hunter Mahan surged into contention with a 6-under 65, matching the best round of the week.
McIlroy went into the day with a one-stroke lead and wasn’t able to pull away like he did at the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2012 PGA Championship. He was tied with Rickie Fowler at the turn, and there was briefly a three-way tie for the top spot when Ryan Palmer made a 35-foot putt from just off the green at No. 11.
Just seconds later, McIlroy made a birdie of his own at the 10th, reclaiming the top spot all to himself.
Jason Day and Jim Furyk also had at least a share of the lead on what was shaping up to be a wide-open day. Even after McIlroy’s birdie at the 10th pushed his score to 11 under, there were still 14 players separated by only four shots, a group that included Mahan, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott, who was among seven players shooting 66.
Canada’s Graham DeLaet shot a 3-under 68 and remains three shots back from the lead.
Sergio Garcia posted a 66, climbing into the mix again in pursuit of his first major title.
Day made a brilliant par at the second hole after yanking his tee shot into the tall grass, so far left of the fairway that he was on the other side of a creek.
His caddie took off his socks and shoes, wading into the water in search of the ball. Finally, after climbing up the opposite bank, he spotted it before the five-minute limit that would have forced Day to take a penalty for a lost ball.
Day then stripped off his socks and shoes, rolled up his pants, and crossed the water. After getting a look at his lie, he asked his caddie for a pitching wedge. He flipped it across the water and Day, playing barefooted, punched his ball back across the fairway, the ball scooting through into the rough on the opposite side.
Day got his third shot on the green and made a 12-footer to save par, walking off the green with a huge smile.
McIlroy had to do a bit of scrambling as well at the fourth, where the tee was moved way up to create a 292-yard par 4.
Going for the green, he yanked it into the trees left of the green and had to take a penalty. After the drop, he chipped to 12 feet out of the rough and rolled in the putt to save par.
Fowler was playing well at another major championship, making an 18-foot birdie at the 10th that temporarily pulled him into a tie for the top spot. The American was runner-up at both the U.S. Open and the British Open, after a fifth-place finish at the Masters.
But McIlroy is still the man to beat.
The world’s top-ranked player came in with two straight victories, having won wire-to-wire at the British Open before rallying to beat Garcia at Firestone last weekend.
One player who’s not in the mix: 14-time major champion Tiger Woods.
Still bothered by a sore back and rusty from a lack of playing time this year, Woods shot consecutive 74s and missed the cut at a major for only the fourth time in his professional career.
Looks like he’ll be missing plenty of excitement.
© The Associated Press, 2014