McIlroy eagles 16, birdies 17 to tie Players lead

Jon Rahm eyes'career-defining Players Championship win as McIlroy Fleetwood lurk	
				Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Rahm eyes'career-defining Players Championship win as McIlroy Fleetwood lurk Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Rory McIlroy was almost as good at the end as Tommy Fleetwood was at the start Friday in The Players Championship.

The West Waterford man eventually signed for a five-under 67 to make the one-under cut with two shots to spare.

It was almost ideal, of course, a sand wedge into No. 6 that tracked the flag and landed next to the pin, except that it took a hard bounce and rolled over the back of the green.

There was no visible frustration, only more great golf. He says his attitude has been good all year, and it can be tested severely on the Players Stadium Course.

Jim Furyk played his best round at Sawgrass the one time he wasn't even expecting to be here. I've been so balanced - nothing like I used to be, nothing like before.

"I only played them in even par today, so it's definitely an area that I need to really concentrate on and try to make the most of those holes because it is getting hard out there, definitely with the conditions the way they might be. Hopefully, tomorrow, it shows how different I've been".

Rory McIlroy was satisfied his "character and grit" helped keep his Players Championship title hopes intact following a awful start to his third round at TPC Sawgrass.

Although the Northern Irishman shares the 36-hole lead at 12 under with Englishman Tommy Fleetwood (67), McIlroy was irritated at slow play and unleashed in his press conference.

- The easy way out was to go low under a tree 20 feet in front of Rory McIlroy. "It's sort of position and irons of the tee and really trying to plot your way around the golf course".

Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., is at 6 under and Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., is at 5 under.

McIlroy opened bogey-bogey, settled down with four birdies, then hit a dry spell of pars down the stretch. Woods put two balls into the water on the notorious par-3 17th, leading to a quadruple bogey that wiped out a good start and forced him to settle for a 71. Two more birdies were followed by a missed par putt from 4 feet. "I got a few back, it would have been nice to pick up a couple in the last few holes but I'm still right there going into tomorrow". The Arnold Palmer Invitational last week was the ninth time in his last 30 tournaments dating to the start of 2018 that he played in the final group without winning. "I feel like I'm driving the ball well and hitting a lot of good quality iron shots". "If I can do that, take the opportunities that I give myself, hopefully I can turn [Sunday] into the best Sunday of the year so far".

Fleetwood recovered from a double-bogey on the first, and two more bogeys on the front nine, to card a two-under-par 70 for 14 under. I don't mind bogeying the 1st, that's fine. I showed some character out there, showed some grit.

Day said he was happy to be back in contention. "I've shot that plenty of times, and everybody does, but days like today, when you haven't played well, I've given myself a chance now". He was 12 shots behind in his last stroke-play event before the Masters.

Five players were within five shots of Rahm, the deficit the Spaniard made up on Saturday. That group included Brandt Snedeker (65) and Keegan Bradley (68), and Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world who played the par 5s at even and still shot a 69.

Saturday was just that for both for McIlroy and Fleetwood, who began the third round sharing a three-shot lead. He hit the right shot on the par-3 13th, with the pin below a ridge near the water, into 3 feet for another birdie. "I haven't seen the weather forecast since this morning, but it looks like we have a tough day ahead of us". He two-putted from just inside 15 feet for a birdie on the 16th, and he had another birdie chance from about that range on the 18th that would have tied the course record.

No matter. He was in the lead, facing a Sunday pairing with Fleetwood as he goes for the most important win of his young career.

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