KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. (AP) – In a year when no lead seems safe, Rory McIlroy will be the man trying to hold on in the season's final major.
McIlroy made back-to-back birdies late in the third round and finished with a 5-under 67, opening a three-shot advantage at the PGA Championship. Players returned to Kiawah Island's Ocean Course on Sunday morning after the third round was halted by rain late Saturday afternoon.
The final group of McIlroy, Carl Pettersson and Bo Van Pelt was scheduled to tee off for the fourth round at 1:45 p.m. local time.
McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, hasn't finished higher than 40th in a major this year, but he became the first player this weekend to open any significant distance on the field when he birdied the 15th and 16th holes toward the end of his third round. That was after he made five birdies on the front nine Saturday.
“I thought it was just a continuation of how I played yesterday afternoon,'' McIlroy said. “I struck the ball beautifully from tee to green – same thing on Thursday, as well. Just one more round like that, and I'll be happy.''
Immediately after the restart Sunday morning, Tiger Woods missed a 7-foot par putt to fall six strokes behind. He rebounded a bit on the back nine but still trailed by five after a third-round 74.
McIlroy was at 7-under 209, three strokes ahead of Pettersson, who shot 72 in the third round. Adam Scott (70), Trevor Immelman (70) and Van Pelt (67) were another shot back.
It was Scott who was in control at the British Open last month before bogeying the last four holes and losing to Ernie Els. None of the 54-hole leaders at the other three majors this year – Scott at the British Open, Peter Hanson at the Masters, and Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk at the U.S. Open – have held on to win.
“Obviously to have a good round and try and win requires mental toughness,'' Scott said. “I think this afternoon as it comes down to the back nine, especially at this golf course, is going to require everyone's skill to be at their best.''
Woods was at 2 under, along with Vijay Singh (74), Steve Stricker (67) and Hanson (70).
Play was suspended Saturday because of storms in the area, giving Woods all night to contemplate the crucial putt he'd face in the morning on No. 8. When he finally hit it, the ball rolled off the edge of the cup, dropping him to even par.
He rebounded with birdies on Nos. 11 and 13 but will have a lot to do in the final round if he hopes to win his 15th major championship and first since 2008.
“I'm right there,'' Woods said. “I was at one point six back, and we had a lot of holes to play, so I was very encouraged the way I dug down deep and got this thing turned around and gave myself a chance going into this afternoon.''
Woods' second birdie came on the 13th hole, a tough par 4 that McIlroy, Immelman and Pettersson all bogeyed. Woods wasn't pleased with his drive on the par-4 15th. His club went sailing when he let go of it on the follow through, and the ball flew well to the right of the fairway, landing in a grassy, sandy area not too far from the beach.
He was able to recover, hitting a terrific shot to the green. He then came up limping for a few seconds before pulling what appeared to be some sort of prickly brush off the right leg of his pants.
Woods looked fine when he arrived at the green and two-putted for par.
“It got in both legs – well, left shoe, right shoe, and then in my right leg,'' he said. “It itched like hell for about a hole, and it was fine.''
Singh dropped back to 2 under with bogeys on Nos. 12 and 14 and a double bogey on 15.
With a number of players finishing the third round Sunday morning, the final round was being played in threesomes off both tees, rare for a major championship. McIlroy planned to take a nap first.
“It'll be nice to get back into bed for an hour or so,'' he said. “I was just sort of treating this day like a 27-hole round. I'm happy to go back and get a bit to eat and rest up a little bit and just come back out there and get playing again.''
It was the first time since 2008 that the PGA Championship didn't complete three rounds on Saturday. Some players had to go 36 holes on the final day that year, and Padraig Harrington wound up winning his second straight major.