Tiger Woods finished his round before the leaders made the turn yesterday in the Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., only this time, thousands of fans didn’t head for the parking lot. They went looking for the kid who already looks the part of golf’s next star.
US Open champion Rory McIlroy put on quite a show at PGA National.
From mangled rough right of the 11th fairway, he measured up a 7-iron from 181 yards and figured it was worth the risk to take on the water in front of the green. The ball cleared the hazard by no more than a yard, and McIlroy seized on the moment by holing a 50-foot birdie from the back of the fringe.
Two par saves were equally important on the back nine, and a birdie from the front bunker on the par-5 18th gave him a 4-under 66, matching the low round of a windy afternoon and giving him a two-shot lead.
That left the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland one round away from becoming the second-youngest player - after Woods - to reach No. 1 in the world. He would have to win the tournament to replace Luke Donald atop the rankings.
“I definitely feel like I need to put it out of my mind tomorrow,’’ McIlroy said. “I need to focus on just trying to win this golf tournament. It might be a little difficult.’’
McIlroy, at 11-under 199, has a two-shot lead over 22-year-old rookie Harris English (66) and 43-year-old Tom Gillis (69). Seven players were within five shots of the lead, a group that includes PGA champion Keegan Bradley and Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.
Woods finally made a few putts, but not nearly enough to keep pace with everyone else. He went the last 11 holes without a birdie and had to settle for a 69, leaving him nine shots behind.
“I was close to putting a low one up there today,’’ Woods said. “I felt like it could be had, I could make a run and post 5-under par for the day or something like that and get myself within reach. Right now, Rory is playing some great golf.’’
English, who won on the Nationwide Tour last year while still an amateur, made a 10-foot par save on the 17th. He will be in the final group.
Bradley had a 68 and was in the group at 7-under 203 with Brian Harman (69) and Justin Rose (71). Schwartzel wasted a good start with a double bogey on the 11th hole, but still had a 67 and was five shots behind.
Nationwide - Pembroke’s Kevin Johnson fired a 7-under 63 that included six birdies in a row to climb into contention entering the final round of the Panama Claro Championship in Panama City, Fla.
Johnson is tied for third at 3-under 207 along with Matt Hendrix (68).
Second-round leader Edward Loar fired a 2-under 68 for an 8-under 202 total, increasing his lead to four strokes over first-day leader Justin Hicks (67).