AUGUSTA, Ga., (Reuters) – Rory McIlroy boosted his chances of completing a career grand slam after a scorching start in the third round of the U.S. Masters yesterday left him within two shots of leader Patrick Reed on a star-studded leaderboard.
McIlroy took a full advantage of a dampened Augusta National setup and went five-under through his opening nine holes, a run punctuated by a chip-in for eagle from 23 yards out at the par-five eighth to reach nine under for the week.
The fast start briefly put the 28-year-old Northern Irishman alone in front until Reed, who led Australian Marc Leishman by two overnight, reclaimed his perch atop the leaderboard with birdies at the eighth and ninth holes to reach 11 under.
Rickie Fowler, considered one of the world’s best players without a major title to his name, took a big step in removing himself from that discussion as he was five under through 12 holes and just four shots off the pace.
Also at seven under was England’s Tommy Fleetwood, who stormed into the picture as he was seven under on the day with a hole to play.
Spaniard Jon Rahm, (five under through 14), Swede Henrik Stenson (one under through 10) and Leishman (one over through nine) were all six under for the week.
Player of the Year Justin Thomas (one under through 12) and twice winner Bubba Watson (two under through 13) were a further two shots adrift.
Tiger Woods, who began the day 13 shots back of Reed, failed to mount any sort of charge. Woods opened with two consecutive bogeys en route to an even-par 72 that ended any slim hopes he may have had of slipping into a Green Jacket today.
The former world number one came into the week as one of the favourites after showing solid form this year in his comeback from injury but failed to conjure up any of the old magic he once seemed to produce on command at Augusta National.
“It’s been scratchy this week. I just haven’t gotten it done,” said Woods. “I feel like I’m driving it better than I have all year, but I am not capitalising on it. And when I did miss I missed in the wrong spots.”
Three-times winner Phil Mickelson was also unable to gain any ground as he followed an opening triple-bogey with a bogey at the second en route to a disappointing two-over par 74 that left him at seven over on the week.
With wet weather expected throughout most of the day, the scoring conditions at the year’s first major could ease up as the rain should soften the notoriously fast Augusta National greens.
Midway through the round the scoring average was nearly three shots better than on Friday.