A stellar top three of Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood heading into the final round of the Players Championship is all the vindication the organisers needed for moving this event from May.
Usually a plodder’s paradise, the charismatic players are relishing the chance to open their shoulders and revel in the softer conditions to give the event a far more exciting feel.
What a final round in prospect, and particularly given an indifferent weather forecast with the terrifying final two holes expected to play into a decent breeze. This won’t be for the faint-hearted.
A stellar top three of Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood head into the final round
Rahm made his move with a brilliant 64 but credit as well to McIlroy and Fleetwood, who showed plenty of grit to stay in contention on a day when neither of the joint halfway leaders had close to their best stuff. The pair posted 70s to be one behind the Spaniard as they seek to end the UK drought stretching back to Sandy Lyle’s triumph here in 1987.
Both are desperate for a victory – McIlroy hasn’t won for 12 months and Fleetwood has never won in America – and goodness, how it showed. The first two holes are a relative doddle and McIlroy bogeyed both. From the middle of the first fairway, Fleetwood needed no fewer than five more shots for a nightmare double bogey. So it continued.
McIlroy, the best driver in golf, hit just four out of 14 fairways; Fleetwood, one of the best iron players, was 15% down on his average for hitting greens in regulation.
This is when the elite show why they’re so bracketed. They somehow hang on, and don’t play their way out of it. McIlroy showed the patience that has been a feature of his fabulous start to the season while Fleetwood recovered manfully to birdie four of his last eight holes.
Ian Poulter, three off the lead at the start, was another to suffer a horrendous opening and could only muster a 75 to be nine back. World number two Justin Rose continued his strong recovery from an opening 74, following up his second round 66 with a 68 to be tied 16th, alongside Players debutant Eddie Pepperell, who shot 68.
Jon Rahm made his move with a brilliant 64 but credit as well to McIlroy and Fleetwood
A day after running up his first quadruple bogey in 1,229 career holes at the Players Championship, Tiger Woods returned to the scene of the crime and knocked his tee shot to the 17th adjacent to the flag for an easy two. What a game.
That, however, wasn’t the half of it. On Friday night, Woods had taken a phone call from his good friend David Duval and learned that his seven should have been no worse than a bogey four. Because of where the flag was located towards the back of the green, and where his tee shot had actually fallen into the water, Woods had been perfectly entitled to drop the ball on the walkway to the green.
‘It was probably the only pin on that green where you could keep the point where the ball went into the hazard between himself and the hole and not be standing in the water,’ explained PGA Tour rules official Mark Russell.
Woods should have had an easy chip, therefore, or even a putt to the flag, rather than the shot from the drop area that he took on, and also put in the water. At most he would have got down in two more shots for a bogey. He might even have holed it from 30ft for an unlikely par. Either way, it would have been a dramatically different outcome to the seven he did write down. Instead of falling from tied 8th to tied 57th, he would still have been right in the hunt.
Not surprisingly, therefore, his opening nine bore a deflated look yesterday, before three late birdies gave him a level par 72. After the final round, he will compete at the WGC-Match Play Championship next week – and then it will be on to the Masters.