Keith Mitchell, chasing his second career American PGA title, landed a five-under par 66 to grab a two-time lead over Rory McIlroy and Gary Woodland after the third round of the Wells Fargo Championship of Saturday.
The 29-year-old American’s bogey-less round left him on 204 under nine after 54 holes at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, NC.
“It’s all been good right now,” Mitchell said. “I’m really just trying to keep the ball in front of me and see what we can do tomorrow. “
Four-time major winner McIlroy shot 68 and 2019 US Open champion Woodland shot 70 to finish on 206, a shot ahead of American Luke List with Japan’s Satoshi Kodaira and American Scott Stallings sharing fifth out of 208.
McIlroy, in his first test since missing the Masters Cup, said his game had turned a corner.
“I felt far away. I still think I was pretty far away, ”McIlroy said of his game. “I’ve worked pretty hard the last few weeks. I found something last week. “
McIlroy said he was boosted by a gallery of viewers as close to pre-pandemic levels as the tour saw him.
“I felt that buzz on the course and when you feel it you can give something back,” said McIlroy.
“It’s so cool to play again in an atmosphere like this. I missed it. I didn’t think I would miss it as much as I did, but it really does.
“So to be in contention, to have the fans back, I really enjoyed it there and I’m excited for tomorrow. “
World number 249 Mitchell, whose only PGA victory came at the 2019 Honda Classic, struggled with his putter until his coach told him on Tuesday he was folded.
“I took it in the trailer, they folded it back and here we are,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell birdie tap-in in the seventh par 5, made 13 and eight-foot back-to-back birdie putts in the ninth par 4 and par 5 10, and added a birdie tap-in at 14 and a five- birdie walk to 16th.
“I really started to hit my driver better a few weeks ago. I started to stand a little taller, ”Mitchell said. “This course is going well for me. I really hit a lot of fades. I love the way he’s looking at me and right now he’s clicking. “
McIlroy, who hasn’t won since a November 2019 WGC event in Shanghai, has won twice at Quail Hollow, where he holds the course record of 61.
The 32-year-old from Northern Ireland had five birdies, but a par 4-12 double bogey denied him a share of the lead. He said he did well on a difficult day.
“It was really tough,” McIlroy said. “I felt where the holes were cut, they were hard to read. There were some tough putts there. “
– Catastrophe of 12 –
McIlroy sank a 25-foot bird putt in the third par 4 and rolled in another just under 17 feet in the fourth par 3.
“When I putts like that it helps,” said McIlroy.
At the seventh par-5, he exploded from a bunker just inside seven feet and sank a birdie putt. McIlroy birdied his fourth par 4 eighth, sinking a 21-foot putt to take the lead by 8 under.
McIlroy hit the back nine with a two-stroke advantage, but his tee shot on the 10th par-5 sailed just over a cart track. He exploded in a bunker near the green and saved par with a four foot putt.
Disaster struck on the 12th par-4 when McIlroy went left into the trees, threw into the rough and later missed a six-foot bogey putt, falling two adrift.
McIlroy recovered eight-foot par to par-3 13th, a fist pump showing what stopping meant, and came out of the rough at seven feet on the 15th par-5 and sank his bird putt to reach 7 under.
List birdieed three of the last four holes to shoot 68 while Kodaira had seven birdies and four bogeys on a roller coaster ride.
© 2021 AFP