| Rory McIlroy hits out of a bunker during the third round of the PGA Championship. (AFP) |
Louisville: While overnight leader Rory McIlroy prepared for a late tee off in the weather-hit final round of the PGA Championship on Sunday, early starter Ernie Els soared into contention.
At a rain-sodden Valhalla Golf Club, where play was earlier suspended for just under two hours, South African Els reeled off four consecutive birdies from the par-three third to get to nine under, four strokes off the pace.
With the softened greens receptive to approach shots, the four-time Major winner knocked in a five-foot putt at the third, an eight-footer at the fourth, a three-footer at the fifth and a 15-foot birdie putt at the sixth.
Also making up ground among the early starters were fellow South African Charl Schwartzel, four under for the day after 10 holes, and American Jimmy Walker, three under after six.
Both Schwartzel and Walker were at eight under, five adrift of McIlroy’s overnight lead.
Play was halted just before noon local time as heavy rain swept across the par-71 layout at Valhalla Golf Club, leaving rivers of water on several fairways and pools covering many greens.
Roughly an inch of rain had saturated the course by the time play resumed.
Whatever happens on Sunday, the main focus for the fans will be on Northern Irishman McIlroy who, in pursuit of his fourth Major title and second in a row, held a one-stroke lead over Austrian surprise package Bernd Wiesberger overnight.
The 25-year-old McIlroy, an overwhelming favourite after winning in his last two PGA Tour starts, fended off a series of challenges during Saturday’s third round by shooting a 67 to stay at the top with a 13-under total.
“It’s not the biggest lead I’ve ever had, but I’m still in control of this golf tournament,” world No. 1 McIlroy said after mixing six birdies with two bogeys on Saturday. “It’s a great position to be in.”
Wiesberger, who has triumphed twice on the European Tour but has never previously fared well in a major, was alone in second at 12 under, with American ‘young gun’ Rickie Fowler a further stroke back in third.
Phil Mickelson, the 2005 PGA Championship winner, and Australian Jason Day were tied for fourth at 10 under on a tightly bunched leaderboard, setting up the prospect of a thrilling finale.
McIlroy was delighted with his finish to the round, sinking a 20-footer on 15, a two-footer on 16 and getting up and down from a greenside bunker to birdie the par-five last.
“I just knew that I needed to make a couple coming down the back nine to keep the lead I had or at least be tied for the lead going into tomorrow,” said the 25-year-old Northern Irishman.
“The two birdies on 15 and 16 were huge. To get up and down out of the bunker on 18 was big.”
Surprise package Wiesberger, who had missed the cut in four of his previous five Major appearances, was still coming to terms with his lofty position going into the final round. (Reuters)