Ireland can claim a fifth European Tour victory of the season in the KLM Open today but it’s hard to know which would be the bigger surprise - world No 568 Paul McGinley coming from two shots behind to win for the first time in six years or world No 4 Rory McIlroy overcoming a three-shot deficit to capture his fourth tournament win as a professional.
When McIlroy broke through in Dubai in 2007 he led by two strokes with a round to go and won by one. In his second tour win at the PGA Tour’s Quail Hollow Championship last year, he was four behind Billy Mayfair but shot 62 and won by four from Phil Mickelson. At June’s US Open he led by eight with a round to go and won by eight. To say he’s improving would be an understatement.
Yet while 17 top-5’s, 27 top-10s and two wins in 52 starts since September 2009 is evidence of incredible consistency, McIlroy must start to turn those top-5’s into victories if he is to achieve his goal of becoming world No 1.
Thanks to a back nine of four under par 31, the stunningly talented 22-year old shot a two under 68 to go into the final round alone in eighth place, just three shots adrift of South Africa’s James Kingston and 44-year old Scot Gary Orr on seven under par.
He knows that decent front nine, which he has played in three over par so far this week, will put pressure “on the guys behind me.”
Those guys include world No 170 Kingston and world No 674 Orr, who lead by a shot from world No 149 David Lynn, whose lone tour win came on this course seven years ago.
McGinley is tied for fourth, just two shots off the lead, with tour rookie Alexandre Kaleka of France. Both shot six under 64’s on Saturday but while the 24-year old Frenchman had six birdies on an immaculate card, McGinley’s round was arguably the more impressive.
The 44-year old Dubliner, who skippers the GB&I Seve Trophy team in Paris next week, began with a bogey at the ninth but then played Hilversumsche’s back nine in seven under 28 by following five consecutive birdies from the 12th with an eagle three at the 18th.
He then bogeyed the third and birdied the fourth before bouncing back from a double bogey six at the sixth with two birdies to finish.
After taking just 25 putts - 17 on them for the 13 greens he hit in regulation - the 2014 Ryder Cup captaincy candidate, was understandably delighted.
But he was also cautious about his chances of capturing a victory that would do his world ranking and his captaincy hopes, no end of good.
“What a round,” said McGinley. “I didn’t play brilliantly, but I putted brilliantly. I was saying that if I had more days like that I would have had some career.”
He added: “It was one of those days. Everyone who plays golf has them sometimes. I read the greens great so when I hit it on line it was going in.”
Explaining that the Seve Trophy captaincy has given him “a buzz’, McGinley said: “I’ve got a chance now tomorrow and if I putt like that I will be delighted. I need to play a bit better to be honest. I played solid today and if I can get a roll going tomorrow, a bit of momentum, you never know what might happen.”