Rory McIlroy may have one hand on the Wanamaker Trophy, but don’t tell that to Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler or Jason Day, all of whom believe they still have chances to take it home.
Similar to his play in the British Open, McIlroy has the lead going into Sunday. However, this time it’s by a smaller margin, one shot versus six.
“I didn’t have my best stuff for some of the round,” McIlroy said. “Obviously I finished well, but the middle of the round was pretty scrappy. But saying that, there was only two bogeys.”
Mickelson, after suffering through a disappointing season, finally showed promise, posting four-under par to pull himself into a tie for fourth with Jason Day, three shots back of McIlroy.
Typical Mickelson, it’s never easy.
“I had a good start on the front nine but couldn’t quite get the ball close enough, couldn’t get the putts to drop,” he said.
He birdied the fourth hole from the bunker but birdied the seventh after missing a 16-footer for eagle.
“I was struggling to get the ball in the hole there for a while,” he said. “The first four holes on the back nine, 10 through 13, is where the round kind of stalled.”
On the back nine, he added a run of three birdies at 14, 15, and 16, finishing with a birdie on the final hole after an eagle putt did not drop.
“I felt confident teeing off,” he said. “I was in control and had good control of the golf club. My irons were just a fraction off early in the middle part of the round.”
He said he would have to push himself to go low on Sunday.
Jason Day was in the rough on one and then experienced an adventure into the native area on two. He and his caddie removed shoes and socks and waded across a stream to locate Day’s ball. Day hit his recovery shot barefoot.
“I was just too lazy to actually get my shoes thrown over,” he said about the shot.
Rory said, “I wouldn’t have been walking through that river to get my ball, that’s for sure. Don’t know what’s in there.”
Fowler will play with Mickelson on Sunday and looks forward to it.
“It will be similar to like kind of what Rory and I had Sunday at The Open,” he said about the pairing. “I’m probably closer with Phil because I haven’t had time to spend as much time with Rory yet.”
He said he was pleased with his round and could not have asked for much more out of it.
The fourth man in contention, Bernd Wiesberger, is more or less an unknown. The press-room announcer called him Bart before he entered the interview room. On Friday night people were using his name to describe what they had for dinner. Should he surprise with a victory, everyone will learn more about him.
McIlroy provided some insight, saying, “He’s one of the modern day sort of guys. He’s big, he’s athletic. He hits the ball a long way, makes a really good move at it.”
While McIlroy is favored to win, based on his current play, never count out Mickelson. Day and Fowler have bigger challenges since they have not overcome the pressure of major championships yet, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. One thing is certain. The Sunday showdown at Valhalla should be explosive with players walking the line between going for broke and playing percentage shots.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.