Paired with each other in the third round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, Rory McIlroy and Chris Kirk both caught fire and shot scorching bogey-free, seven-under 64s. Both players shot up the leaderboard at 10-under for the championship on Sunday’s “Moving Day” over the long weekend at TPC Boston. They’re currently tied for third, trailing Russell Henley by two strokes.
Kirk set the pace, rolling in birdies in the first two holes, while McIlroy drained two of his own on the second and third.
“We both got off to good starts,” said Kirk. And then just fed off each other all day. Both were hitting well. Neither of us — we weren’t rolling in 25-footers, but there were a lot of tap-in birdies out there, which is nice. I think we could have played in about three hours if there wasn’t anybody in front of us, because of all the shots going so close.”
Kirk had to do his best to stay extra focused instead of being awestruck by watching Rory’s splendid ballstriking.
“For someone like me, I have to definitely make sure I don’t get caught up in watching him,” said Kirk. “He’ll out-drive me by 30, 40 yards sometimes and hit these ridiculously high iron shots. But thankfully I was able to just not pay too much attention to it and just play my own game and hit plenty of good shots, myself.”
Kirk closed in style — something McIlroy couldn’t do — with birdies on the last two holes, including a chip-in on no. 17.
“That was a nice bonus,” said Kirk of the chip-in. “I was playing a really good, solid round. And I hit a decent second shot there, just sort of rode the wind a little too much, and landed on the wrong side of that little knob in the middle of the green and kicked down there into a
tough lie. But anything like that is definitely a bonus and nice to get another one on 18.”
As all the talk is focused on the Ryder Cup with both captains announcing their three wildcard picks on Tuesday, Kirk’s name has to be in the mix since he finished 14th in the U.S. points standings, but he’s got other plans on his mind in case things don’t pan out.
“I’m planning on seeing Georgia (his alma mater) play Tennessee that weekend,” said Kirk, with a wry smile.
So, unlike, say, Keegan Bradley, he’s not too concerned with trying to make the team?
“No, it’s pretty much out of my control,” said Kirk. “I’m trying to play well, and do as well as I can in this tournament. I couldn’t be any less worried about it. It would be purely a bonus if I was to somehow sneak on to the team. But like I said I’ve got big plans that weekend in Athens.”
Meanwhile, McIlroy obviously already locked up his spot, with his sizzling summer, capturing three big tournaments in a row, the Open Championship, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship. He’s put himself in a familiar position again, giving him a chance to capture the Deutsche Bank Championship for the second time since winning it in 2012.
“I played well,” said McIlroy. “I hit a lot of iron shots close. I got myself in position to do that, more so than the first couple of days. And I didn’t hole really anything the first couple of days. Whenever you’re hitting iron shots as close as I was on the back nine you don’t really need to putt well. Really a solid day of golf and obviously puts me in a good position.”
And that was the difference between McIlroy’s first two rounds and today — his putting. He needed 27 putts in the third round.
“I putted really nicely today,” he said. “When you hole them — I holed a good lag putt on the third today. Once you see those go in early in the round it sort of gives you a nice little bit of confidence. Yeah, it just kept going in the hole for the round, which felt really good.”
One putt he was not able to make was his 12-footer for birdie on the reachable-in-two par-5 18th. McIlroy hit a five-wood off the tee to keep a big number out of play, then knocked a pure 4-iron onto the green, which unfortunately rolled off the left side down into the collection area. From there, he didn’t have many options and chose to putt it. His birdie attempt just limped out and McIlroy hung his head in despair as he walked up to his par putt to tap it in.
“I hit a really good putt here,” he said. “I thought it was just going to break in and it just went out on the right. It would have been nice to hole out and go into tomorrow 11-under par. But 10-under, I’ll take, and you’re still in a great position heading into Monday.”
He also echoed Kirk’s sentiment that it didn’t hurt being paired with another hot player (though I hate that cliche of guys “feeding off” each other).
“We both got off to decent starts,” he said. “I think when you’re playing with a playing partner and you’re both — it is, it’s hard sometimes if one guy is struggling, and the other guy it playing well. But when both of you are playing well you keep seeing good shot after good shot and putts go in. You do feed off of one another a little bit.”
McIlroy and Kirk are paired together again going into the final round and perhaps they can catch momentum from each other for the second day in a row. For Rory, it’s a familiar position and one that wouldn’t surprise anyone if he were to capitalize and win (again).
“I’ve been in this position quite a lot recently,” said McIlroy. “So I know how it’s going to
feel tomorrow. I know what’s going to happen out there. And, yeah, I’ve played well and I’ve made it through this year and hopefully tomorrow will be no different.”
He also has the luxury of already securing an automatic spot on the Ryder Cup team and won’t have that pressure in the back of his head, unlike so many others in contention. In fact, the biennial team matches haven’t really crossed Rory’s mind.
“I won’t say I haven’t thought about it,” he said. I’ll think about it the week before, probably the weekend before we get there. Right now I’m concentrating on myself. Obviously I saw what Stevie Gallacher did today, I was watching in Europe, and obviously it was a great effort what he did. I’m looking at that part and I’m speaking with a few guys who we think might be picked. I’m thinking about it that way.
“But personally I’ve got tomorrow and then two very important weeks to think about before I pay any attention to the Ryder Cup. Just try and get these three tournaments out of the way and then I can concentrate on it.”
McIlroy and Kirk tee off on Monday afternoon at 1:45 for the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship.