Let’s get the pun out of the way now. The man from Holywood is in contention to win in Hollywood.
Rory McIlroy, who hails from that town in Northern Ireland, shot 4-under 67 on Saturday in the third round of the Northern Trust Open. He trails Bubba Watson by two shots on 10-under 203 heading into his first-ever Sunday at Riviera Country Club.
It wasn’t a pretty round for McIlroy, but the highlight was a Houdini-like escape on the 18th hole. Stuck behind a eucalyptus tree and near a hospitality area, the four-time major winner had to find a way to get up-and-down for par. He managed to find the green at the finishing hole, leaving a difficult 18-foot par putt that the 18th tower broadcast team seemed to think wasn’t going to drop. McIlroy, sensing the importance of every stroke on a golf course that tends to produce tight leaderboards, then made the putt.
The 54-hole leaderboard is tight, as usual. It’s also stacked. Watson leads. Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott are with a shot and two shots, respectively. Former Players winner K.J. Choi is in contention. Marc Leishman, who was in the three-man playoff for last summer’s British Open, is part of a five-way tie for fifth with McIlroy, Scott and Choi, as well Kevin Chappell.
Then again, McIlroy, who decided to make his first start here this year because of the high esteem in which the course is held among his peers, expected nothing less.
“Quality courses produce a quality leaderboard, and you just have to look at the names up there … Bubba, Dustin, myself, Adam, all very, very good players,” he said. “It’s going to be a bit of a shootout tomorrow. I’m happy that I stayed at 10 under and didn’t drop to nine.”
The challenge for McIlroy tomorrow is to find fairways. His typically strong driving game lagged on Saturday, with the Ulsterman hitting just five of 14 fairways. When he’s found the fairway, or even been close, good scores have followed.
“I feel like my iron game is sharp,” he said. “Short game has been pretty good. My putting was nice today. I holed out well, and I have to continue to do that.”
LISTEN TO OUR WEEKLY GOLF PODCAST! This week: Rory McIlroy flexes his muscle for Brandel Chamblee