Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington believe they can chase down US Ryer Cup star Dustin Johnson in the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral’s TPC Blue Monster.
Johnson hit a superb, seven under par 65 to lead by two shots from Luke Donald (66), Mattt Kuchar (68) and Nick Watney (68) on 13 under par.
But the Irish pair are ideally placed to make a final round charge for the title.
McIlroy birdied the last two holes, holing a 10 footer at the 17th and a 15 footer at the last for a 69 that leaves him just three shots off the pace on 10 under par in a share of fifth with Adam Scott, Francesco Molinari and Hunter Mahan.
Harrington got up and down for par at the last, holing a six footer for an otherwise stress free 68 to lie four shots behind Johnson on nine under par, tied for ninth with Scotland’s Martin Laird.
Catching Johnson won’t be easy on a track that suits players who drive the ball long and straight. But while McIlroy struggled off the tee, hitting just five of 14 fairways in the third round, he’s feeling good about his position.
Playing with a sore right toe after dropping a 50lb dumb bell on it on the eve of the event, McIlroy said: “I know I have to go out tomorrow and shoot a really good one and not make as many mistakes as I did today.
“I’ve stayed really patient and I’ve birdie the holes I needed to. There’s been some really good signs, some positive signs, that my game is good. There’s just been a couple of drives here and there and a couple of iron shots I haven’t really wanted. But that’s just because I’ve been playing in the wind over the last week or so.”
McIroy shot a final round 62 to win the Quail Hollow Championship last year but while he believes that a low score in gettable on the Blue Monster, he’s not setting any targets.
“I made six birdies today and didn’t feel as if I played that well. You’ve got to reckon that if you’re on your game and you’re seeing the lines good, I’m sure there’s a low one out there.
“I feel as if there’s a low one out there anyway because my game is very close to being very good. (20 under?) No, I’m not really going out there to chase a number. I’m just going out to play some good golf. I can only control what I do and if that means shooting 68 or 62 or 72, it doesn’t really matter.
“I can’t really go out there and try and set a target. I can only focus on hitting some good shots and making some good putts and if it adds up to a good score at the end of the day, than that’s the main thing.
“It’s a World Golf Championship, it’s a huge event played in a great atmosphere. It’d be great to get myself in the mix with nine holes to go, definitely.”
As for his toe, McIlroy doesn’t believe the injury will stop him putting his best foot forward today.
“It’s still a little sore. I’m probably going to lose the toe nail, which isn’t nice. I’m icing it every night so it’s very stiff and sore in the mornings but I’ve sort of got it strapped up and once I start moving around a bit, it’s okay. I was in the gym last night and it didn’t hinder me too much.”
Harrington has struggled to turn promising positions after 36 or 54 holes into a PGA Tour or European Tour victory since his 2008 US PGA triumph at Oakland Hills.
But he was pleased to get to nine under par playing well within himself on a course where he finished third last year.
After getting up and down from just beyond the water hazard at the last for a par and a 69, Harrington said: “I had plenty of chances. Fifteen was a horrible bogey off another good shot but it was nice to chip and putt the last. I feel like I got it back a bit on 18 when I’d given away a shot on 15. Always nice to finish that way.”
Reflecting on his tendency to blow up after 36 holes this season and looking forward to getting in the mix, he added: “I seem to have got 18 holes closer than most weeks. I’m looking forward to it.”
A competitive animal like Harrington does not enjoy picking up the place money, especially when he has worked hard to get himself into contention. But it’s not a feeling he has enjoyed too often in recent months.
“Of course I’ve missed it. I had it plenty of times last year. I was in contention a dozen times last year, I just didn’t finish it out when I was in the same sort of contention as I am tomorrow.
“I’m a little bit off the lead. I need a big day. It’s not like any stage last year, except for the one I won, that I was out in front. I’ve been in the last couple of groups through last year. Just didn’t play well and ended-up going backwards.
“At lot of events over here last year, I was in the top-10 going into the last round, four back, it’s doable but it needs a big day tomorrow. I had that a lot last year and maybe I pressed too hard too quickly. I don’t know. Have to wait and see how we get on. Keep playing the same way. I’m nine under par so far this week and it’s a comfortable nine under par. I’m happy about that.”
As for Johnson, the American knows that he is going to have to play well to leave a class leaderboard in his wake.
“I’m going to have to play well,” Johnson said. “It’s going to take another good round. I played well today, drove it well, putt it well, hit the ball well; so I’m going to have to do that again tomorrow.”
Graeme McDowell was forced to use his brilliant short game to grind out a one under par 71 that left him in the pack on two under par.
But he confessed that he’s feeling positive about his game with just four weeks to go to Augusta.
Tied with Tiger Woods (70) and two shots better than reigning Masters champion Phil Mickelson (72), McDowell had three bogeys and two birdies in his first 13 holes before picking up shots at the 15th and 16th for a sub-par round.
“I am battling the full swing and have been for a few weeks,” McDowell said. “But my chipping and putting is firing on all cylinders.
“I finished sixth in West Palm last week, certainly not on my A game, which is pleasing. It is nice to be performing while not performing at my best.
“There are a lot of positives in my game right now, which is keeping me sane and driving forward. I am liking the way I am feeling.”