There might just be too many players ahead of Rory McIlroy to hope he can win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
But whatever happens at Firestone Country Club’s South Course on Sunday, the 22-year old Ulsterman will head to the US PGA Championship in Atlanta next week believing his game - especially his putting - is simmering nicely.
The Holywood star birdied two of his last three holes and had just 28 putts in a three under 67 to go into the final round just five shots behind fast-finishing leader Adam Scott on seven under par.
However with nine players ahead of him on the leaderboard, McIlroy knows he will have to produce a special closing round to pull off his fourth career win.
Tied for 10th after his lowest ever round at Firestone, McIlroy said: “Hopefully I can get off to a good start and give myself some chances. I feel that if I can have a good start, I can get myself right into the mix.
“It was definitely better today. I holed a few nice par putts and a few for birdie as well. It would have been great to hole that eight footer at the last for birdie but at least I have given myself a shout going into the final day.”
McIlroy two putted the par-five second for birdie, saved par from seven feet at the fourth and then missed two chances inside 12 feet at the fifth and sixth before saving par with a nine footer at the eighth.
Three putts from 50 feet at the 10th left him back where he started but he bounced back immediately by holing an 11 footer at the 11th and a 12 footer at the 12th to move back into the top 10.
He dropped another shot when he was bunkered at the 15th but again hit back, picking up a birdie with a wedge to five feet at the long 16th and another at the 17th where he drained a 30 footer up the hill.
He completely misread an eight foot birdie chance at the last and knows he needs everything to click today to have a chance of catching the leaders.
However, he added: “Even if it doesn’t click tomorrow, at least if clicks next week, I’ll be happy.”
If McIlroy was happy with his game, Graeme McDowell joked that he was suffering from PMS (Pre Major Stress) after a five over 75 sent him tumbling to tied 68th on eight over.
“I need something tomorrow to give me confidence going to Atlanta,” said McDowell who added that he will sit down with his team at the end of the year and decide whether or not he will remain a PGA Tour member next year.
“Something low, some good ball-striking, seeing some putts drops or something to draw on ahead of next week.
“I’ve just been a bit flat out there, and this weather just saps the energy out of you, and when you’re not at the business end it’s hard to get going.”
Padraig Harrington had another up and down day, hitting just five of 14 fairways as he bogeyed two of his last three holes for a 73 that relegated him to tied 57th on four over.
The world No 66 birdied his opening hole, the 10th, but bogeyed the 11th and double bogeyed the 12th after overshooting the green with a bunker shot.
He parred his way to the turn bu then follwed a birdie from eight feet at the second with bogeyes at the seventh, where he three-putted from 52 feet, and ninth, where he drove into the face of a fairway bunker on the right and failed to make the fairway with his recovery.
Open champion Darren Clarke lifted himself off the foot of the leaderboard when he shot a one under 69 to get back to 10 over and share 70th place in the 76-strong field.
But was a bad day at the office for Tiger Woods as he hit just four fairways and had 33 putts in a 72 that left him 13 shots behind leader Scott on one-over in a share of 38th.
“I’m trying to get used to my new setup, my new lines,” Woods said of his driving accuracy problems. “I’m used to curving the ball a lot more. Now I hit it straighter…I’ve had reps, but not in tournament play. When I get in tournament play, I fall into my old patterns.”
To make matters worse, the former world No 1 could be forced to watched his ex-caddie Stevie Williams tote the bag for the winner with Scott picking up birdies at the 12th, 14th, 15th and 16th to move a shot clear of 19-year old Japanese sensation Ryo Ishikawa (64) and compatriot Jason Day (66) on 12 under.
Ishikawa, 19, has already won 10 times as a professional but if he wins at Firestone he will be become the youngest winner of a professional event in the US in the modern era.
The record is held Johnny McDermott, who was 19 years, 10 months and 14 days when he won the 1911 US Open. Ishikawa would be just a week older if he were to win today.