McIlroy's US PGA charge cut off in its prime

Briton moves to top of leaderboard with Woods losing his way before storms strike US PGA

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The Independent Online

Two storms battered the US PGA Championship yesterday. Unfortunately, the evil purple one the size of Northern Ireland stole Rory McIlroy's thunder and rained on the parade of the storm he was whipping up across the Ocean Course.

McIlroy was leading at six under par when the horn sounded to warn that the end of the world was nigh. The 23-year-old world No 3 had just blown away the front nine in four under par, only 32 shots, when play was suspended. It was rotten timing. Momentum was with him as he channelled the vintage 2011 form that won the US Open last year by eight shots. Need proof that luck, however, is ultimately with him? McIlroy whacked his drive at the third into a tree. He thought it was lost until a TV camera crew spotted it plugged inside a knot in one of the branches.

The only player delighted with the delay was Tiger Woods. He began fighting to keep control of his swing again, falling off balance and pulling strange body contortions like Norman Wisdom. The world No 2 was three over par through seven holes and back to one under for the championship. As 30,000 spectators scampered for cover, they will at least have the bonus of returning today for Super Sunday when the leaders will play at least 27 holes to decide the 94th US PGA champion.

But world No 1 Luke Donald is not among them. Donald thought he had turned the corner in his quest to find that elusive first major after finishing fifth at the Open last month. But that corner has merely led straight down another de sac.

While disappointed to be teeing off at the back of the field, sneaking into the weekend's play on the cut at six over par, Donald was not despondent despite a third-round two-over-par 74. "I said before the Open I needed to be less uptight heading to the first tee, not put so much pressure on myself as the world No 1," Donald said.

"And I think I succeeded in that, at Lytham and here. I have dealt with my anxiety [at the majors] and, with some of the right breaks, I could be really close this week. For some reason, the golfing gods have not been on my side."

But that's 38 majors, now, for Donald without a victory. "The majors have been disappointing," he said. "I had an outside sniff at the Open but other than that I haven't really been in contention." Looking ahead to the final round, Donald showed the fighting spirit that has taken him to the top of the world rankings. "Pete Dye [the Ocean Course's designer is just kicking my ass," Donald said. "I need to try to get the score back to 1-1 against the course."

At least Donald and McIlroy are certain to qualify for Europe's Ryder Cup team when the top 10 players are finalised in three weeks. Ian Poulter is 12th in the rankings but has virtually been given the nod by captain Jose-Maria Olazabal that he will receive one of his two wild card picks. Poulter might not need one if he continues to hole putts at the Ocean Course. He was two under par when the monsoon came.

A top-five finish would knock Sergio Garcia out of the team but the Spaniard, who missed the cut, is another who has all-but been guaranteed his place on the plane to Chicago in September via a wild card if he does fall through the trap door of the 10th and final automatic position.

Padraig Harrington, however, has pretty much been told by Olazabal that he needs to qualify to make the team. The Irishman is 19th on the Ryder Cup points table.

Harrington gave the impression he was rather irritated by Olazabal's public declaration of what was expected of him. On the eve of his third round, the 40-year-old, who has slipped to No 63 in the world rankings, was asked what he thought of Olazabal throwing down the gauntlet. "There certainly isn't very much room for a pick for me," he said. "Obviously Ian Poulter is going to get one and, you know, there's one left. Obviously I'm not in the reckoning as it stands."

Olazabal said Harrington would have to do something extraordinary. "Would a 59 be extraordinary enough?" Harrington said laughing. A 59 on this monster of a course is crazy talk but Harrington set off for the third round in the mood to shove something down Olazabal's throat. He played the front nine in four under par before swallowing a double bogey at the 10th. He then chipped in to birdie the 17th and got up and down from 35 yards at the 18th to finish at one under par.

How's that for Ryder Cup pyrotechnics? Humble pie is on the menu. It's just not yet certain whether it will be Olazabal or Harrington who will require the knife and fork.

Early third round scores

214 Steve Stricker (US) 74 73 67

215 Jimmy Walker (US) 73 75 67

216 Geoff Ogilvy (Aus) 68 78 70

217 Bill Haas (US) 75 73 69

218 Justin Rose (Eng) 69 79 70; Jason Dufner (US) 74 76 68; Greg Chalmers (Aus) 70 76 72; Bubba Watson (US) 73 75 70

219 J J Henry (US) 72 77 70; Jim Furyk (US) 72 77 70; John Senden (Aus) 73 74 72; Paul Lawrie (GB) 73 75 71; Ben Curtis (US) 69 77 73; Louis Oosthuizen (SA) 70 79 70.

220 Alexander Noren (Swe) 67 80 73; Ernie Els (SA) 72 75 73; Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) 75 74 71; Rich Beem (US) 72 76 72

221 Charl Schwartzel (SA) 70 77 74; Robert Garrigus (US) 74 73 74; Y E Yang (S Kor) 73 74 74; Brendon De Jonge (US) 71 78 72; Sang-moon Bae (S Kor) 72 78 71; Darren Clarke (GB) 73 76 72; Gary Woodland 67 79 75; K J Choi (S Kor) 69 77 75

222 Dustin Johnson (US) 71 79 72; Matthew Every (US) 72 76 74; David Toms (US) 72 78 72

223 Noh Seung-yul (S Kor) 74 75 74; Retief Goosen (SA) 73 75 75; Thomas Bjorn (Den) 70 79 74; Ken Duke (US) 71 78 74; Chez Reavie (US) 74 76 73

224 Luke Donald (Eng) 74 76 74; Cameron Tringale (US) 69 78 77

225 Ryo Ishikawa (Japan) 69 77 79

226 Toru Taniguchi (Japan) 72 76 78

227 George McNeill (US) 71 76 80; Marcus Fraser (Aus) 74 75 78

229 John Huh (Kor) 72 78 79