Rory's on the rise in Shanghai

Second-ranked golfer has top spot in sights, aceing his drives to clinch third-round lead

SHANGHAI • World No. 2 Rory McIlroy wants to be the best golfer in the world and he took a step closer to his target in the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai yesterday.

The Northern Irishman was pleased with his "best round" this week after carding a bogey-free five-under 67 and earning a one-stroke lead over Louis Oosthuizen.

The 30-year-old put on a driving clinic for most of the day, his accuracy and prodigious length off the tee an impressive sight at Sheshan International Golf Club.

His score, a third straight 67, could have been considerably better had his putting been hotter, but his performance was enough to move within striking distance of his fourth victory of the year.

A precise wedge for a tap-in birdie at the par-five 18th allowed him to inch ahead of Oosthuizen at 15-under 201.

"I think if I can go out tomorrow and play similar to how I did today, I should have a good chance to win," said McIlroy, who had five birdies.

"I probably played the best today than I've played all week. I drove the ball well, hitting my irons pretty good for the most part. I feel like I didn't quite get as much out of the round as I could have but I'm not going to complain.

IT'S ALL ME

There's no part of me when I'm out there this week, trying to win this golf tournament, am I thinking about Brooks Koepka. I'm thinking about myself, I'm thinking about trying to do the best.

RORY MCILROY, on not getting distracted by ranking talk.

"I'm in the lead going into tomorrow so I just need to rest up and try to get out there and play another good, solid round."

His consistent strong play this year - winning the Players Championship, the Canadian Open and the Tour Championship - saw him take home the FedEx Cup and the PGA Tour Player of the Year award.

He said his success had motivated him to challenge for the No. 1 ranking in the world, with his impressive Shanghai showing aiding his bid to chase down current No. 1 Brooks Koepka.

When asked about his rivalry with the American yesterday, McIlroy clarified: "There's no part of me when I'm out there this week, trying to win this golf tournament, am I thinking about Brooks Koepka.

"I'm thinking about myself, I'm thinking about trying to do the best that I can."

If he wins today, he will also take home the event's US$1.7 million (S$2.99 million) victor's reward. But he will be wary of Oosthuizen, whose birdies at the first five holes earned the South African a 65, yesterday best score.

"Sixty-five on Saturday is always nice," said the 37-year old, who is just as much at home driving his tractor on his South African farm as he is driving a golf ball on the links.

"Played lovely, made nine birdies so I'm rolling the ball decent on the greens. Winning a world event would be a big achievement. I need to just go out and play good golf."

But it was also not just a two-horse race, not with American defending champion Xander Schauffele and English halfway leader Matthew Fitzpatrick lurking two shots from the lead.

Schauffele made his move with birdies at the final three holes for a 68, while Fitzpatrick fired a 70.

Home favourite Li Haotong gave his large gallery plenty to cheer about with five birdies in his first six holes to offer hopes of a Chinese challenge.

But he came undone with an error-strewn stretch that included a triple-bogey at the par-four 13th, where he knifed a bunker shot over the green into a hazard. He shot 74 and fell nine shots behind.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 03, 2019, with the headline 'Rory's on the rise in Shanghai'. Print Edition | Subscribe