LAS VEGAS – Rickie Fowler couldn’t remember the last time he saw his name at the top of the leaderboards on the PGA Tour weekend. He didn’t forget what he was supposed to do from there.
Winless in 32 months, Fowler returned to center stage on Saturday in the foothills above Las Vegas. He’s under 63 – his lowest score in three years – and took a two-stroke lead over Rory McIlroy heading into the CJ Cup final round at Summit.
“I haven’t held this position much in the last couple of years,” said Fowler, whose last win was the Waste Management Phoenix Open 2019. “So feeling the emotions again over the last nine, being around then on top of it, it was great to see that I was still executing and hitting the punches that I wanted. “
His best chance of ending a crisis will not be easy.
The Summit Club has had low scores all week and a sharp change in scores is not unusual. Keith Mitchell started off with a five-stroke lead. All it took was two bad hits in the desert for double bogeys and he finished the round with a 73 and a four stroke deficit.
Rory McIlroy started the day nine strokes behind. He had five straight birdies at the start, hit a 7 iron at 20 feet for an eagle on the last hole and shot 62 to finish two behind.
Las Vegas is known for its wild entertainment, and it could go beyond the Strip that can be seen on the horizon.
“With Rickie and Rory up there it will definitely be an exciting day for everyone in golf tomorrow to watch,” said Adam Scott, who had a 67 and was three behind. “There are tons of great players who can pull a low shot, including these guys.”
Abraham Ancer had a 63. He was also three behind, along with Robert Streb (65).
Fowler, who dived 128th in the world, had three birdies on his last five holes and was 21 under 195.
“It has been a long time coming. It’s been a long road, tough times, ”said Fowler. “We are not finished.”
Nine players were less than five strokes ahead, and anything goes in this tournament.
Keith Mitchell pulled off a pair of early birdies, entering from behind the green at the second par-3 and hammering a 3-wood in a light breeze to set up a two-put birdie on the third par-5. And then he closed the first nine with double back-to-back bogeys.
“It’s tough when you’re out there and you’re not playing well, but you look at the standings and you’re still there, trying to motivate yourself and come back because you know you don’t.” have your best stuff then, ”Mitchell said.
“I’m glad the last two days have been as good as they have been so I may have a few hiccups and still have a chance to win.”
He was not alone in his struggles. Jordan Spieth thought that being five back would allow him to keep his foot on the accelerator pedal. Spieth probably forgot to start the car. He did not birdie until the 15th hole and had to settle for a 72, leaving him eight strokes behind.
The average score for the week was approximately 68.5.
McIlroy was thinking more of his game than of the court he needed to catch up, but that changed when the putts started to fall.
“I think on a course like this you’re going to have sections where you’re going to play good golf and hit good shots and maybe just not make the putts,” he said. “I played an eight hole stretch yesterday in a par – I made eight pars in a row. Then today I played nine holes in under 6 and all of a sudden you feel a little better about yourself.
It was easy to feel good playing alongside Ancer. When they were done, McIlroy and Ancer’s caddies looked at the scores on their phones and quickly realized that McIlroy and Ancer had a score of 59.
Fowler did most of his work from the tee to the green. He birdied an 18-footer putt on the 16th par-3 to take the lead, and he had another birdie putt from that range on the eighth hole. Above all, he continued to give himself chances.
Fowler went back and forth for birdies on the par 5s up front. He had three birdies two-putts of the last nine – both par 5s and a 35-foot drive on the accessible 12th par-4.
It was easy and stress free golf, and there hasn’t been a lot of that going for him lately. Fowler failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs for the first time in his career, and he needed a sponsor exemption for the second year in a row to play in the CJ Cup.
“It only lasts three days and golf tournaments are usually 72 holes, so we have 18 more,” Fowler said. “It will definitely be a challenge tomorrow.”