DUBLIN, Ohio – Rory McIlroy felt like he was hanging on for dear life Saturday at the Memorial. He had to scramble for bogey to start the back nine. He went five holes without hitting a green. And all the while, he never really lost ground.
When he had to scramble for par on the fourth-easiest hole at Muirfield Village, the par-5 11th, he said he told caddie Harry Diamond he only wanted to try to break 70.
McIlroy wound up with a 2-under 70. That was enough to take him four shots behind at the start of the day to a share of the lead going into Sunday.
“That's what happens when conditions are like this,” McIlroy said. “You just have to hang on.”
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 on the front nine. 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 canceled and Greg Norman won at even-par 216.
McIlroy, doing his best to keep in play on the fast fairways that have been baked all week by a hot sun, picked up three birdies over the last seven holes, just not on the holes he imagined.
He chipped in for birdie on the dangerous par-3 12th. He reached the par-5 15th in two after a 344-yard drive. His approach to a back pin on the 17th rolled past the cup to 7 feet and set up one of only eight birdies on that hole for the day.
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.
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