Rory McIlroy boosted hopes of a second US PGA Tour victory this season with a sizzling eight-under par 64 in the third round of the Memorial tournament on Saturday.
The effort was McIlroy’s lowest score since a final-round 64 en route to victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando in March, when the Northern Ireland star ended an 18-month US tour victory drought.
McIlroy will still have work to do on Sunday. Starting the third round at even par, he leap-frogged 64 places.
But it was a marked turnaround after a day when McIlroy looked to be heading home early after scores of 74 and 70.
Having squeezed into the weekend, the four-time major winner grabbed his opportunity with both hands, eagling the fifth hole with a 38-foot bunker shot and adding six birdies – including three in a row from the 11th hole.
“Honestly, I am just glad to be here and just get a couple more rounds before going to the US Open as it was touch-and-go whether or not if I would make the cut,” he said.
“When I finished my second round I thought even par was easily going to get in but then once the guys went back out after the rain delay it seemed like the conditions were very benign and guys couldn’t stop making birdies.
“So, it was a bit of an edgy late afternoon, early evening but it was nice to be here for the weekend.”
The Memorial is McIlroy’s last tournament before the US Open tees off at Shinnecock Hills on New York’s Long Island on June 14.
He said he has some things to iron out before the year’s second major.
“Over the last few weeks I’ve played rounds of golf like this, but I’ve also played rounds of golf where it’s been pretty average,” he said. “The good’s very good and the bad — I need to get that a little bit better.
“If I could produce four days of golf at Shinnecock like I did today, then, yeah, I’m ready. But I’ve got a little bit of work to do just to get a bit more consistency in there.”
England’s Lee Slattery holds a one-shot lead heading into the final round of the Italian Open after carding a best-of-the-week 62 on day three at GardagOLF Country Club.
The 39-year-old from Southport fired eight birdies and an eagle from 10 feet on the seventh in his nine-under-par round.
A solitary bogey after a miscued tee shot on the 12th leaves Slattery 16 under for the week, one ahead of home favourite and last week’s BMW PGA Championship winner Francesco Molinari and Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen.
Halfway leader Martin Kaymer and England’s Danny Willett – both major champions but short of form of late – are a shot further back after rounds of 68 and 67 respectively.
Slattery made birdies at the fourth and sixth before taking advantage of an excellent approach to the seventh.
The two-time European Tour winner made another gain at the 10th and, after his blemish on the 12th where he was fortunate his tee shot stopped just short of the water, bounced back with a hat-trick of gains before converting from 12 feet at the last.
“It was very relaxing, playing with two good guys, Laurie Canter and Richard Sterne. (I) know them both quite well, and we just enjoyed it,” Slattery said.
“When you get in that zone, you just keep making birdies. It’s a great feeling.
“I’ll just try and relax and just enjoy it tomorrow.”
Olesen made seven birdies before dropping his only shot of the day on the 16th after three-putting for a round of 65, while Molinari – twice a winner of his national open – carded one bogey against six birdies, including a lengthy effort on the 18th which delighted the locals in Brescia.
With four months to go until the Ryder Cup team is named, Jim Furyk and his vice-captains will have plenty of selection headaches as they bid to name a strong team of 12 to face Team Europe in Paris on September 28.
With eight players selected from points gained at every PGA Tour event, WGC and major, the remaining four slots will be down to the team management.
Here, we take a look at our 12 as it stands.
Current points: 6,728.501
The Masters champion would have been part of the team regardless of his ranking, given his history in high pressure matches. He is unbeaten in singles (2-0-0) and fourballs (3-1-0) during his two Ryder Cup appearances. The 27-year-old has secured five top-10 finishes in his last six events and has the confidence and potential to be a future top-five player.
Current points: 6,352.273
The World No1 may not be the same household name as Justin Spieth and Dustin Johnson, but has proven to be equally as influential. It’s hard to imagine the 25-year-old has yet to play in the Ryder Cup, despite a career to date in which he has won eight PGA Tour titles, the FedEX Championship and a major. With 12 top-25 finishes and five top-10 finishes this season, the Kentucky native will be a serious addition to Furyk’s side in September.
Current points: 5,161.597
Held the number one ranking for 15 months up until his T17 finish at The Players earlier this month. At 33, Johnson has the most complete game in the sport and will be a pivotal figure when America set out to retain their Ryder Cup title in France. The Florida resident has 11 top-20 finishes in his last 12 tournaments, including a win and two second place finishes.
Current points: 4,795.306
Without a doubt, the most talented player in golf. Results may have not gone his way over the past 12 months but the 24-year-old is still a three-time major winner. Has proven to be a force with Reed in their last two Ryder Cup appearances and if he can improve his putting – his biggest strength in previous years – then expect him to add to his 11 career Tour wins before September’s showpiece. Will be America’s leading light at Le Golf National.
Current points: 4,479.348
Koepka may not have won the Fort Invitational last weekend, but the 28-year-old helped himself into fifth place in the Ryder Cup rankings after a solid second place finish. The Florida man was playing the best golf of his career this time 12 months ago and went on to clinch a first major at the US Open. Injuries may have restricted his progress since January, but he is slowly getting back to his competitive best. If he can start holing bunker shots like his birdie on the par-4 6th last Sunday, then he will be back on top of the leaderboards again soon.
Current points: 4,102.303
The 39-year-old famously missed out on the 2016 edition despite holding a top-8 raking at the moment. Stepping in as a vice-captain, the Florida man used his presence to help the Americans to a first title since 2008. But two tournament wins this year – along with fifth at the Masters – has seen Watson return to his immaculate best and he now looks a dead certainty to earn his fourth Ryder Cup appearance.
Current points: 3,932.347
A career best second at the Masters earlier this year will have boosted the confidence of Fowler, who looks set to make the Ryder Cup team for a fourth time – at just 29. Has shown a penchant for heating up on the grand stage and will be bidding to better his 2-4-5 record in previous Ryder Cups. At present, his form looks mixed, with nine top-25s over his last 13 starts – including three missed cuts.
Current points: 3,673.247
The ultimate warrior. Mickelson has played in a record 11 consecutive Ryder Cups for America and looks like a lock to play for a 12th time. The five-time major winner has never had to rely on a captain’s pick due to his consistency to finish inside the top eight each year. In March, the 47-year-old beat Justin Thomas in a playoff to win the 43rd tournament of his career at the WGC-Mexico Championship. His leadership and composure will be unrivaled when Furyk and Co travel to Europe later this year.
Current points: 3,622.307
The Players Championship winner has had four top-10s this season. His win at Sawgrass was perhaps his finest as he jumped from 29 to nine in the Ryder Cup rankings. It looks likely he will make his third appearance for America.
Current points: 3,247.928
The 39-year-old has played in four Ryder Cups and finished in a season-best eighth place at the Houston Open in April. A reliable performer, expect the world No23 to step up as the summer progresses.
Current points: 2,910.265
Finished third at the Tournament of Champions and would bring buckets of determination to the table if selected as a wildcard. The 31-year-old has yet to play in the Ryder Cup but is composed in high pressure situations, making 17 of the last 19 cuts.
Current points: 2,378.567
Took a massive stride towards his first Ryder Cup appearance with a dominant victory at AT&T Byron Nelson in Dallas. Could the 21-year-old be the next great under-30 USA member, following in the footsteps of Spieth, Fowler, Reed, Thomas and Koepka?