Rory McIlroy realized Muirfield Village was playing so tough that he set a goal of just trying to break 70. He didn’t quite get there, and his 2-under 70 still was enough for him to share the lead Saturday in the Memorial.
It helped that Hideki Matsuyama went from leading to dropping off the leaderboard in a span of six holes. And that Patrick Cantlay went into the water and over the green on his way to a triple bogey. David Lipsky bogeyed his last two holes.
What remained amid a few rumbles of thunder – but no weather delays – was an opportunity for just about everyone who had a tee time Sunday.
Thirteen players were separated by two shots. Nine more were only three shots out of the lead.
Lipsky’s two closing bogeys gave him a 72, while Si Woo Kim overcome two double bogeys for a 71. They joined McIlroy at 6-under 210.
It’s the highest 54-hole lead since 1990, when the weather was so atrocious that the final round was cancelled and Greg Norman won at even-par 216.
McIlroy ran into trouble in the right rough on the 10th and had to scramble for a bogey. He pulled his tee shot on the par-5 11th and caught a break when it stopped short of going into the creek. That’s when he set his goal for the day to break 70 by avoiding mistakes and picking up some birdies on a few of the more scoreable holes.
It didn’t quite work out that way. He chipped in for birdie on the dangerous par-3 12th. He also hit an approach to a back pin on the 17th that rolled past the cup to 7 feet and set up one of only eight birdies on that hole all round.
Just as sweet was the 18th, where his putt from the back of the green to a front pin ran nearly 10 feet by the cup and he holed that for par. McIlroy had several par putts from between 5 and 8 feet, all of them important on a day like this.
“I was really happy with how I scored out there, and how I just sort of hung in there for most of the day,” McIlroy said.
He will be in the final group with Kim, who one-putted his last seven holes, saving par from a front bunker on the 18th.
All this was made possible largely by Matsuyama, a former Memorial winner, who birdied his first two holes and looked to be on his way. And then it quickly fell apart – a bad chip on the par-3 eighth, a three-putt on the ninth and his big blunder on the par-3 12th – tee shot into the water, then over the green from the drop area and a triple bogey.
Cantlay, a two-time Memorial winner, had only one big mistake. He went for the green from the rough on the par-4 sixth and came up short and into the water, then went long into the rough and didn’t get up-and-down, making a triple bogey.
Otherwise, Cantlay made 14 pars, a pair of birdies and a bogey. He and Matsuyama, despite a big number on each of their cards, were two shots behind going into Sunday.
The big move came from Keegan Bradley, who made the cut on the number. He teed off at 8:15 a.m. and finished as the leaders were just starting to warm up. Bradley made nine birdies in his round of 65, and now he’s only two shots behind.
Viktor Hovland (69) and Mark Hubbard (72) were in the large group one shot behind at 5-under 211. Hubbard bogeyed his last three holes for the second time this week. He didn’t let it bother him on Thursday, and he felt the same way Saturday.
“I’m not happy with my finish again, but at the same time, I made three pretty good bogey putts,” Hubbard said.
His strategy on a day like this: “Just try and make a lot of birdies on the par 5s and not make doubles on the hard holes.”
Justin Suh, the 36-hole leader, didn’t stay there for long. He started bogey-bogey, then found the water on No. 3 for a double bogey. He didn’t make his first birdie – his only one – until the 14th hole. Suh had a 77.
He was still only three shots behind, along with Jordan Spieth (72).
Of the 22 players separated by three shots, nine have never won on the PGA Tour. One of those was Lipsky, who doubts he’ll get too wrapped up in looking at the leaderboard.
“It’s too hard to focus on anything else but your game,” he said.