FLORIDA — Rory McIlroy took a big step towards gaining the number one spot in the world rankings, grabbing a two stroke lead after Saturday’s third round of the Honda Classic.
The Northern Irishman shot a four-under par 66 in windy conditions, recovering from successive bogeys on the sixth and seventh holes to produce three birdies on the back nine with some of his characteristically confident golf.
“It was another very solid day out there,” he said. “I’m very happy, obviously, with the position I’m in and I just need to try and keep doing the same things tomorrow.”
McIlroy, who can take over the top spot from Englishman Luke Donald only with a victory, finished with a birdie on the 18th hole, coming out of sand a little too strongly and then draining a 12-foot putt from the opposite fringe.
The 22-year-old from Holywood stands at 11-under par for the tournament and has a great chance of getting to the pinnacle of the global rankings for the first time.
“I have to really stay in the present, stay in the moment and not think about everything else that could happen, whether it be going to number one or winning my first tournament (here),” he said. “I’ve just got to go out there and try to put a good number on the board.”
But McIlory conceded it would be tough to keep his mind free of the prospect of being number one.
“It might be a little bit difficult. It might creep in every now and again but if you can keep it out for the majority of the time, I think it is the best thing to do, “ he said.
Americans Harris English and Tom Gillis were two strokes behind McIlroy while Englishman Justin Rose and Americans Keegan Bradley, the PGA Championship winner, and Brian Harman, who smashed the course record on Friday, were a further two strokes back.
English, a 22-year-old rookie, will play in McIlroy’s group along with journeyman Gillis.
“I think it is going to be fun. Two 22-year-olds and a 43-year-old,” said Gillis.
“Hopefully they don’t walk too fast and I can catch them up,” he said.
Tiger Woods, looking to make up ground, could only manage a one-under 69, leaving him well back, nine shots off McIlroy.
“I was close to hitting a good one today,” he said. “I hit it good, putted good. Boy it was really close to being a really low round.”