Russell Henley made five birdies in a seven-hole stretch Sunday on his way to a six-under 65, giving him a one-shot lead in the Deutsche Bank Championship going into a Labour Day finish loaded with possibilities.
And that includes Rory McIlroy.
Coming off a week that was pedestrian by his standards, McIlroy got right back into the mix at the TPC Boston with his power and great iron play for a 64, leaving him just two shots behind on a crowded leaderboard.
“I’ve been in this position quite a lot recently,” McIlroy said. “So I know how it’s going to feel tomorrow.”
It feels a lot like the FedEx Cup playoff opener a week ago at The Barclays, with more than a dozen players having a reasonable chance going into the final round. Ten players were separated by four shots at the Deutsche Bank Championship, and six of them already have won this season.
Henley was at 12-under 201. He will play in the final group with Billy Horschel, who birdied his last three holes for a 67.
Chris Kirk went toe to toe with McIlroy in the third round and matched his 64, coming within inches of an eagle on the final hole. They will play together again on Monday.
Jason Day, who started Sunday tied with Ryan Palmer, reached 12 under with a short birdie putt on the 13th hole. But he missed a short par putt on the 14th and hooked his tee shot into high grass and had to pitch out, leading to another bogey on the 15th. Day also failed to birdie the par-five 18th and shot 69.
Palmer took bogey on two of the par fives and shot 71 to fall four shots behind.
McIlroy won the British Open, a World Golf Championship and the PGA Championship to assert himself at No. 1 in the world. He had a chance to win early in the season until a late collapse in the Honda Classic, where Henley won the four-man playoff.
Henley can look as good as anyone, and then he can disappear. He has missed eight cuts and has only two finishes in the top 20 since winning the Honda Classic. Now he is one round away from securing his spot in the Tour Championship, and perhaps giving U.S. captain Tom Watson one more person to consider for a Ryder Cup pick.
But that one round seems far away, considering the leaderboard – especially with McIlroy.
“He’s obviously a tough guy to beat,” Henley said. “But like I said, there’s a lot of tough guys to beat. Rory has had a heck of a run and I’m sure he’ll continue that.”
Horschel is at No. 82 in the FedEx Cup and came to the Deutsche Bank hopeful of moving into the top 70 to advance to the BMW Championship next week.
Now he’s in the final group and adjusting his goals. He emerged late with a tap-in birdie at the 16th, a tough 12-footer on the 17th and a wedge to five feet on the final hole.
And while Kirk had the same type of bogey-free round as McIlroy, it was a lot tougher to ignore McIlroy. Two of his birdies on the back nine were inside a foot. Another was just more than four feet from the flag, and his longest birdie on the back nine was 12 feet.
He made birdie on the par-five second with a two-putt from eight feet.
“It feels normal,” McIlroy said. “It feels like it’s what I’m supposed to do. It’s my job to go out there and shoot good scores. I’m not getting too excited about it. I’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow if I want to win this tournament.”
McIlroy won the Deutsche Bank Championship two years ago.
Webb Simpson, among those under Ryder Cup consideration, overcame a double bogey to post a 68 and was three shots behind. Keegan Bradley also is in the hunt for one of the three captain’s picks. He made only two birdies on a soft day for scoring and had a 69, leaving him four shots behind.