If tension is your poison, don't stray far from your television set for the rest of the weekend. You might need a snifter or two to survive the assault on Rory McIlory's major gallop. McIlory takes a one-shot lead into the last round of the PGA Championship at Valhalla after a birdie at the last for a 67 saw him into Sunday on 13 under par.
McIlroy shares the final pairing today with Austria's Bernd Wiesberger, who eclipsed some mighty names with a thrilling 65. Ranged behind them is a raft of heavy hitters, led by Rickie Fowler on 11 under, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day a shot further back, and among those on nine under, Henrik Stenson and Louis Oosthuizen.
“I saw Phil was making a run, Ricky and Bernd. I knew I had to make a couple coming home to stay in front. The birdies on 16 and 18 were huge. It's where I want to be. It's the best place to be in a golf tournament,” McIlory said.
“It has its stresses but at the same time we don't practice all these hours to be teeing off in the middle of the pack on the Sunday of a major. It brings nerves, stress and anxiety but that's what we work so hard for. I'd be disappointed if I went the whole season without feeling it.”
This was not to be a Saturday of crushing brilliance for McIlory. The dynamic at the top of the leaderboard meant the front runners would struggle to make of the generous scoring conditions the killing on offer to those coming up behind and swinging freely. The living is never easy when the field is condensed and you are the one with a bull's eye on your back.
By the time McIlory went to the first tee in the final pairing with Day the scoring average had shrunk to 69, three shots better than the first two days. The cut had cleared out the dead wood. The soft, windless conditions and a course set-up favouring forward tees did the rest.
Jamie Donaldson shot a 66 to move to eight under par, Hunter Mahan a 65 to reach seven under alongside Adam Scott, another in with a 66. “It was pretty perfect,” Donaldson said. “It's warmed up today. The ball is playing further. The greens are pretty good. The fairways are soaked, but the greens are very dry, made for ideal scoring.”
England's Danny Willett and Spain's Gonzalo Fernandez Castano both eagled the fourth after driving the green in the same pairing. It proved the catalyst to a fine round by the boy for Sheffield who bolted through the field with a round of 66 to reach six under par.
Justin Rose had to make do with a birdie, one of four on his outward nine. Were it not for back-to-back bogeys at 15 and 16 Rose would have closed on the front page of the leaderboard, within three of the overnight lead. His 68 to finish on four under par was thus a disappointment.
“I had it going at five under after 13, maybe I could get it to seven or eight for the round and who knows where that takes me? A couple of short game errors cost me. Hopefully I can get it going again tomorrow.”
McIlroy began with a par but there was drama on the second when Day pulled his tee shot into the deep flora way left of the fairway. He did well to find it. After a barefoot traverse of the adjacent stream Day hacked it into rough on the right, hacked again to ten feet and sank the par putt. Incredible.
McIlory was the one in trouble at the fourth pulling his tee shot into the hazard, while Day had a 12-footer for eagle. McIlory took a penalty drop leaving him 11 feet for par. Day missed, McIlory holed. The result took Day alongside McIlroy at nine under. McIlory recorded his first birdie at the fifth to reach ten under, soon to be followed by Day.
Day had work to do again at the sixth after yet another tee shot left. Forced to lay up with his second he left himself a tricky 10 footer for par. This time his luck ran out and McIlory had the outright lead once more. Back and forth it went. Indeed Las Vegas might have been a more appropriate site to host the heavyweight battle unfolding at the top.
Ricky Fowler, as is his wont at majors this year, poked his nose into the picture, as did Ryan Palmer. After a bogey at the 12th taking McIlory back to ten under, both joined the Ulsterman in a three-way share of the lead. Day was one of five a shot back on nine under par. When McIlroy stepped on to the 13th tee only three shots separated the top 15.
A tap-in birdie at the 17 introduced Bernd Wiesberger to an American audience as the first Austrian to lead a major championship. It was his second birdie on the bounce and his fifth of the day. His joy as outright leader lasted all of 15 seconds, the time it took McIlory to line up his putt at the 15th and rifle the ball home.
Whether McIlroy triumphs or not, there is no questioning his ticker. They were coming at him from all angles but his nerve held brilliantly, so much so he drilled his approach to two feet at the 16th to resume the lead outright on 12 under par.
Remarkably Wiesberger invoked the 15-second rule to rattle in his birdie hat-trick at the last, inviting McIlory to trump him over the closing two holes. McIlroy duly obliged getting up and down out of the trap at 18. Don't blink today. The season's last major promises a finale to savour.