McIlroy rides luck in Akron; Lowry and Power on a roll in Reno
Shane Lowry

Shane Lowry

Rory McIlroy took advantage of some clutch putting and two late strokes of luck to keep the leaders in his sights in the  WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron.

As Shane Lowry and Seamus Power racked up the birdies in Reno, the Holywood star struggled with his wedges and was just one under for his round with two holes to play at Firestone Country Club.

But he got away with a wild drive and holed out from a greenside bunker for an unlikely birdie at the 17th, then got a friendly ricochet off a marshal at the 18th and took advantage by hitting a wedge to five feet before rolling in the putt for his fifth birdie of the day.

It all added up to a three-under 67 left him just three shots behind leaders Ian Poulter (67),  Justin Thomas (64) and  European number one Tommy Fleetwood (63) on eight-under par.

And while he was frustrated throughout as he frequently squandered chances to get the ball close off huge drives, his finish helped him get over his overall feeling of frustration.

Grouped with Tiger Woods and defending champion Justin Thomas for next week's US PGA, McIlroy had to admit he rode his luck.

"If I had shot one under it would have been the worst I could have shot where I was hitting it," he said. "I should have been giving myself looks for birdies, and I was having to hole five and six footers for par. 

"It was nice to finish like that.  I was sort of getting frustrated out there, but that finish on the last couple of holes makes up for it, and I am right there going into the weekend."

McIlroy admitted that he loves slick, bentgrass greens and putts them well compared to links greens that are stimping at 10. But when asked about his wedge play — his overshot the 10th from 99 yards and made bogey — he admitted he got it "completely wrong" trying to take something off a gap wedge that goes 130 yards.

"I just didn't match up my arms with my body," he said. "I was too fast at the bottom, and it flew more than it should have. I hit some wedge shots today that were frustrating, but I hit a good one into 16 and another one into 18. So I just need to match up my speeds, and if I do that, I should be able to figure it out."

The trio of leaders is two shots clear of Kyle Stanley (68) with Tiger Woods
five back and Paul Dunne 10 behind after they both shot 68s.

Woods knows he's going to have to live up his billing as the player with the lowest third-round scoring average on tour this year — 68.2

"I'm going to have to. The golf course is playing very soft, very receptive, and when you're able to hit 5-irons and they only roll out about a foot, the guys are going to put up good scores.

"There's 40-plus guys under par. That's never the case here at Firestone. So tomorrow's going to be one of those days I'm going to have to go out there and post a low one and see what happens."

He won't be hitting driver, willy-nilly, however.

"I play the golf course for what it has, and that's about as aggressive as I'll ever play this place," he said. "It's imperative to hit the ball in the fairway here because the rough is thick, but you hit the ball in the fairway, and you know that you can flag some iron shots, they won't roll very far. 

"It's imperative for me to get the ball in play, and if I'm there, go ahead and attack."

Meanwhile,  Shane Lowry kept his hopes of retaining his PGA Tour card alive when he moved into contention at the Barracuda Championship in Reno

While a solo third-place finish could leave him within touching distance of the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings with two events of the regular season remaining, a win would catapult him into the top 100 and secure a two-year exemption.

"Obviously I'd prefer to be in Akron," said Lowry, who made seven birdies and two bogeys to rack up 12 modified stableford points to lie just one four points behind leaders Aaron Baddeley in tied sixth. "But this is a very good second to that.

"I had a promising week the last weekend. And obviously, things are going well this week. 

"Hopefully I can do the business the next few weeks and keep my card over here. 

"First and foremost hopefully I can do well over the weekend here, and you never know, contend come Sunday and on to the PGA next week. 

"But overall my season has been very average. I'm not missing so many cuts, but I'm finishing down the field every week weekend. That doesn't really calculate well on the PGA TOUR."

He still can't put his finger on what went wrong, simply offering up the fact that while he's making tonnes of birdies, he's also making too many mistakes.

Having split with his caddie and taken on his brother Alan for four weeks, he had no complaints in that department yesterday.

"My brother's done a few weeks on the bag," said Lowry, who was projected to move up to 148th in the FedEx Cup if he finishes tied sixth but knows a solo third could put him close to 125th while a win would solve all his problems. 

"He's quite a handy player as well, yeah, we're just kind of working off five to 10 per cent early on in the morning and 10 per cent in the afternoon and seems to be working so far."

Making the top 125 in the FedExCup is also the goal for 123rd ranked Seamus Power, who was stung by hornets during his first round but is tied 13th on 18 points after making 10 points in his second round and 

"I got swarmed by five or six of them, and they stung me quite a bit," Power said.

"A couple got under my shirt and stung me. I've been stung before, but never anything like that."
Padraig Harrington (222nd) and Graeme McDowell (143rd) desperately need a big week to improve their chances of making the FedEx Cup playoffs, but neither made in-roads yesterday and just crept inside the cut line by the end of the day

Harrington's meagre haul of two birdies was erased by three bogeys, and he accumulated just one point to share 51st on seven points with McDowell, who made two birdies and one bogey yesterday to add three points to his tally.

On the Challenge Tour, Gavin Moynihan bogeyed his final hole to miss the cut by a shot in the Swedish Challenge hosted by Robert Karlsson.

He shot a one-over 73 to finish on one-under with Neil O'Briain (72), and Cormac Sharvin (74) also cut on one-over and three-over respectively.

England's Max Orrin shot a second successive 67 to lead by three strokes on 10-under par from Oliver Bekker, Eirik Tage Johansen, Jack McDonald and Liam Robinson.

At the Staysure PGA Seniors Championship, Sweden's Magnus P Atlevi shot an eight-under 64 and New Zealander Greg Turner a 65 to give them a three-shot lead at halfway.

Paul McGinley (72) is tied 32nd on four-under with Ronan Rafferty (69) three-under. 

Brendan McGovern (68) and Des Smyth (70) were tied 41st on two-under, but Philip Walton (71)  and Eamonn Darcy (75) missed the cut.