Every cloud has a silver lining and while Rory McIlroy missed a four footer and double bogeyed the 18th he was still positive about his putting in the third round of the Tour Championship.
“It’s not really a day where you were going to give yourself a lot of chances, so I was happy that today was the best I putted in a long time,” McIlroy said after a 70.
“I think even after yesterday I was top-10 in strokes gained putting, which is the first time that’s happened in a while as well.
"So, definitely positives on that front. Just obviously disappointed with how I finished. But, a lot of positives to take from it.”
Heavy rain made it a tough day for all — "What is that race called.. Tough Mudder? Is that what it's called? That's what it felt like," Henrik Stenson said — but while McIlroy gained two shots on overnight leader Stenson, carding a level par 70 to remain on three under, Jordan Spieth saved a spectacular par at the 16th and then birdied the last to lead by one from the Swede on eight under.
McIlroy is five behind and that’s because he’s made a string of errors — 10 bogeys a one double, compared to one solitary bogey by Spieth — to go with his 15 birdies.
Spieth has made just 10 birdies but he’s been clinical on an around the greens with his par save from 22 feet at the 16th, followed by a par-birdie finish, enough to see him edge ahead of Stenson.
McIlroy, in contrast, has made too many mistakes and yet his putting has been good — he’s second for strokes gained putting behind Spieth.
The Ulsterman was two over through six holes but birdied the seventh (26ft), ninth (21ft), 12th (2ft), 13th (18ft), 15th (10ft), 17th (30ft) only to bogey the 14th and 16th and the double the last after finding an awkward sidehill lie above the left greenside trap.
“I just couldn’t get a stance to where I could aim directly at the pin,” said McIlroy, whose second shot scuttled over the back from where he took three more to get down.
"I was aiming about 10 feet right of the pin and trying to hood the club face and sort of manufacture some sort of shot to sort of hit it left of where I was aiming. So, but, yeah, I tried to have one foot in the bunker and one foot out, but really — that wasn’t going to work."
On his chances of winning, he was less enthusiastic than he might have been had he parred the 18th,
“I’d feel much better if I didn’t just do that on 18,” he said. “Five behind. It would have been nice to be a little bit closer to the lead going into tomorrow, but I still feel like I have a good chance.
"And I said yesterday I needed to get off to a fast start today and I didn't. I was two-over through six holes. I really need to -- I played the first six holes this week in 4-over par. I need to play those holes a lot better tomorrow if I’m going to have any sort of chance to win.
"The one thing that I struggle with, especially for me when the driver face gets wet, it takes a lot of spin off the ball so it's hard. The more spin you can put on it the tighter you can sort of keep your lines.
"So, and I like to shape the ball off the tee a little bit and with this wet weather, it doesn't really allow me to do that. So, it's tough. It's tough for me to just aim out the middle of a fairway and try to, just try to hit a straight one, because that's not the way I play, it's not my game. But with the wet weather the way it is, it’s what I have to do.”
Spieth birdied two of his final four holes, including the par-three 18th on a rain-soaked afternoon at East Lake to shoot a two-under 68 for a one-stroke lead over Stenson going into the last round of the season finale.
If he wins the tournament he’ll also with the FedExCup and its $10 million bonus though he can also win the overall prize is no one else in the Top 5 of the FedExCup standings wins at East Lake.
“I'm very motivated,” Spieth said. “It’s something I want badly, and it's going to feel a lot like a major championship when I step on the first tee (on Sunday).”
Rickie Fowler had a best of the day 67 and is tied for third with Paul Casey (71), four strokes behind Spieth with McIlroy and Zach Johnson (71) five off the lead.
As for Stenson, the Swede wasn’t too downcast about losing the lead at the death.
“It was a grind and I didn’t have my best day tee to green, I felt,” he said. "Battling the swing a little bit, but still kept it together fairly nicely and we're still at the races. I would have liked to have gone a few better, but we’re still up there and yeah, it's all going to be decided tomorrow."