PITTSFORD, N.Y. — With the afternoon wind freshening, Rory McIlroy knew he’d gotten himself back into the 95th PGA Championship by shooting a 3-under-par 67 Saturday, especially with a birdie-birdie finish.
“I probably made up at least three, 3½ shots on those last two holes,” McIlroy said. “Making a birdie on 17 is like an eagle, and then to follow it up with another on the last is even better.”
The closing blitz didn’t just put a smile on McIlroy’s face, a rare sight in a trying season. He was so pumped at his birdie chip-in on No. 18 that he flung the ball into the gallery.
Pressed on Friday to find birdies over his final nine holes just to make the cut — he made four — McIlroy carried that good play into the third round. His 67 pushed him into a tie for seventh, and suddenly within striking distance at 3 under. He’s six shots back, looking to win a major for the third straight year. He’ll have one more day to do it.
“To play like that on this golf course and do what I needed to do yesterday just to make the cut, and then to go out and play the way I did today, yeah, I mean, it’s been a good stretch of holes,” said McIlroy, winner of the 2011 US Open and last year’s PGA, both by eight shots. “I felt good enough about my game that I could go out there and post a good one today and at least give myself a chance.”
A leap forward
Dustin Johnson needed to make a 12-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole of his second round Friday just to make the cut on the number. Playing without any of the pressure that comes with being near the weekend lead at a major — he started 12 shots back — Johnson went out for his third round in the day’s third group and looked calm and confident. Played like it, too.
By shooting the low round on a day when Oak Hill finally showed some teeth, Johnson steadily climbed up the leaderboard. He began the day tied for 59th, and by the time he signed for 65, he was already up to a tie for 15th, before the lead groups even started.
By day’s end, Johnson was even better, tied for ninth at 2 under, and seven shots behind.
“You just never know. I thought it was playing pretty tough out here,” said Johnson, who had six birdies. “If this wind picks up, even par is a good score, I think. We’ll just have to see what they do.”
Johnson has seven tour wins — he’s won at least one tournament all six years he’s been on tour — but is still looking for his first major.
“Going into tomorrow, same game plan,” he said. “Same thing I’ve been doing all week, just try to hit the fairways and get it on the green and get a look at birdie.”
Bubba Watson missed the cut on the number after shooting a second-round 74, but there was a silver lining in getting the weekend off, at least for Watson’s caddie, Ted Scott.
Scott sent the following Twitter message out on Saturday morning:
“My 6 yr old called Thurs nite and asked me to tell Mr. Bubba to have the worst day of golf and miss the cut so I could attend her B Day party.”
Thorny front nine
Justin Rose had carved up the front nine the first two days: He made four birdies in the first round and shot 32, then made six more birdies on Friday, when he had a 29. So what happened Saturday? No birdies, three bogeys, and two double bogeys (Nos. 3 and 5). The 7-over-par 42 effectively ended Rose’s bid for a second major this year. The US Open champion bogeyed No. 10, too, finally made a birdie at the 12th, shot 77, and dropped from a tie for fifth to a tie for 28th at 1 over . . . Webb Simpson has birdied the par-4 10th hole all three days, and birdied the par-4 14th all three days. Through three rounds, he leads the field with 16 birdies, but has a double bogey and a triple bogey on the week, both at the par-4 fifth . . . Brooks Koepka had the only eagle in the third round, when he holed a 20-footer at the par-5 fourth . . . Saturday’s scoring average was 72.17, slightly higher than Thursday’s 72.13, and a tick better than the 72.26 from the second round . . . More than 92,000 votes were cast by fans in the “Pick the Hole Challenge,” and the pin placement for Sunday’s final round at No. 15 will be on the right side of the green, five paces over the lake. Tough spot.