McIlroy gains on Johnson
ATLANTA Rory McIlroy kept his eye on the leaderboards scattered around East Lake Golf Club during Saturday’s third round of The Tour Championship. He liked what he saw. First, his own score had him feeling good as he methodically took apart demanding East Lake with a bogey-free, 4-under-par 66 to move closer to winning his first Tour Championship. Second, he saw the game’s best player at the moment, Dustin Johnson, come back to the field after threatening to run away with the title and, with that, the $10 million jackpot bonus and the FedExCup.
McIlroy, who at one time trailed by five shots, is at 6 under through 54 holes and two shots in back of Kevin Chappell (68) and Johnson (69). Johnson made three birdies in his final seven holes but also carded two bogeys and a double-bogey 6 on the penultimate hole during that time. McIlroy is tied in third with Ryan Moore (66). Hideki Matsuyama (68) is another stroke back in fifth at 5 under.
“This week it’s all about you limiting your mistakes. I didn’t do that the first two days, but I did that today,” said McIlroy, who needs to win The Tour Championship and have Johnson finish tied for second or worse to claim the FedExCup and the $10 million.
“I didn’t have a bogey,” McIlroy added. “You don’t need to make many birdies here to feel like you’re working your way through the field. Four birdies, no bogeys, that’s going to work around here.
“It gets me closer to what I need to do. I need to go out and play a very similar, if not better, round of golf tomorrow to have a chance. I think, first and foremost, I just need to try and win this golf tournament, and whatever happens after that happens. It would just be great to try to win The Tour Championship, and if the chips fall my way, then so be it.”
McIlroy spent an hour on the range with swing coach Michael Bannon after his second round despite the heat and humidity. He said he was a little out of sync with his upper and lower body.
“That range session definitely helped last night. It showed today,” McIlroy said. “I hit 17 of 18 greens and didn’t make many mistakes. So much better golf swing today, and I think that obviously is related to what I did last night on the range.
“I feel good. I feel like I can go out there tomorrow and shoot something even lower than I have today, and hopefully that will give me a chance.”
The DJ train that is Johnson was rolling right along in the ATL before he started losing shots to the right on the back nine. Johnson, who won his third title of the season two weeks ago in the BMW Championship, the third of four playoff events, still managed to break par. It was his eighth consecutive round under par. He knows he can win both The Tour Championship and FedExCup.
“I thought I played pretty well, just a couple of loose drives on the back side and made a couple bogeys and that double on 17. Other than that, I thought the round was pretty solid,” Johnson said. “I felt like I hit good putts. They just didn’t go in.
“I like my position. I feel like I’m playing really well. So I need to go out tomorrow and do the same thing I did today, just get off to a good start and hopefully try to finish off a little better. I’ve got a lot of confidence going into tomorrow, and I know I can get it done out here. I’ve won quite a few times out here. So that definitely helps.”
Chappell has made just one bogey this week in his search for his first PGA Tour title. He was struggling with his swing but turned things around with a chip-in birdie on the 12th.
“Coming close so many times this year and not getting a win yet,, it fuels me,” he said.
“I need to go out and play a very similar, if not better, round of golf tomorrow to have a chance,” Rory McIlroy says.