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McIlroy tops packed leaderboard at Valhalla

Charlie Lemay
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Rory McIlroy's sublime short game rescued him on several occasions during the third round at Valhalla © Getty Images
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Rory McIlroy ended the third round of the US PGA Championship exactly where he started it: with a one-shot lead.

But the world No.1 was made to work for his advantage as he struggled to find his rhythm at Valhalla. However, he shifted through the gears late on to card three birdies in his final four holes for a 67 to reach 13-under for the tournament.

McIlroy played some uncharacteristic shots, including a fluffed chip at both the 8th and 12th, and he pulled a number of tee shots to put himself in trouble.

He was saved by his masterful short game, including some clutch putting and accurate approach play as he topped a tight leaderboard as players closed in on the Northern Irishman.

"It really was a gutsy performance," McIlroy said. "It felt like every time I made a birdie I made a bogey. I birdied the seventh hole and then made a silly bogey on eight and then after a birdie at 10 and a good up-and-down on 11, I gave it back again on 12.

"But I'm really happy with the way I finished. It obviously puts me into a great position going into tomorrow."

On his clutch birdie putt at 15, he added: "It meant a lot because I knew the guys in front of me were making birdies. Phil [Mickelson] had made a couple, Rickie [Fowler] made a couple and Bernd Wiesberger had gone on a run as well."

He added: "It gives me a lot of confidence going into tomorrow. If I get challenged and people do start to put the pressure on then I am able to respond to that like I did today.

"If I can keep mentally strong then hopefully it will be another major coming my way."

None of McIlroy's challengers are more surprising than Wiesberger, who carded a bogey-free round of 65. The little-known Austrian charmed the partisan Kentucky crowd as he put on a thrilling exhibition of golf that included six birdies.

Less surprising is seeing Fowler near the top of the leaderboard in a major championship.

'It just wasn't to be'

Justin Rose played himself out of contention © Getty Images

Fowler was in the final group on the final day at the Open and US Open and his worst finish in the majors so far this year is fifth. Another impressive round of 67 - rounded off by a two-putt birdie from the best part of 60 feet at the 18th - keeps the Californian well in contention.

"I had a lot of really good looks on the back nine and hit a lot of good putts but with some misreads," Fowler said.

"It will be fun tomorrow. You just got to go out and do what you've been doing and you never know what could happen."

Fowler will tee up alongside Mickelson, who played himself into the championship with a late flurry of birdies at the 14th, 15th, 16th and 18th.

Bogeys on 11 and 12 looked to have rocked the left-hander but he showed why he is a five-time major winner to reach 10-under.

"I've been waiting for that seven-, eight-, nine-under par round to strike and I haven't quite done it," Mickelson told Sky Sports. "I've just been a fraction off here or there to allow me to play 18 holes like I should but I need to do that tomorrow. There are low scores out there."

McIlroy's playing partner Jason Day had an eventful start to his round as he waded through the stream which lines the second hole to play his ball out of the rough bare-footed. He thinned his next shot into the fairway, pitched to 20-feet and then drained the putt to card one of the most peculiar pars you will ever witness at a major championship.

The Australian birdied the last to join Mickelson at 10-under, one clear of a cluster of players that includes Louis Oosthuizen, Henrik Stenson, Mikko Ilonen and Ryan Palmer.

Welshman Jamie Donaldson is at 8-under alongside Steve Stricker and Graeme DeLaet, while England's Lee Westwood is a shot further back alongside Hunter Mahan, Adam Scott, Kevin Chappell, Joost Luiten and Jim Furyk - who, with a 72, was the only player in the top 50 to go over par on Saturday.

But Sunday's final round will once again be all about McIlroy. The question is, can he hold on?

Jason Day found trouble at the second © Getty Images
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