By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AKRON, Ohio -- The last time Rory McIlroy felt this good about his game was back in May.
He was hitting on all cylinders then, narrowly losing to Rickie Fowler in a playoff at the Wells Fargo Championship. Since that week in Charlotte he's had two top-10s, missed five cuts and tied for 60th at the British Open.
Small wonder, in that case, that a second-straight 67 on a championship-caliber layout like Firestone Country Club left McIlroy energized. He'll start the final round of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational in a tie for fourth, five strokes off Jim Furyk's lead.
"It's getting there, it definitely is," McIlroy said. "I've worked hard to get it back. The last few weeks have been tough just playing so great, and obviously my expectations every time I tee it up are pretty high, and not to live up to my own expectations is not nice, but I feel like I'm definitely moving in the right direction."
McIlroy hasn't hit a ton of fairways this week -- just five on Saturday, in fact -- but he's tied for first in greens in regulation, finding 40 of 54. His putting has been something of a mixed bag. He's used 89 for the week and 30 on Saturday, but he's tied for first in putts made distance and ranks 14th in strokes gained putting.
McIlroy went out in 32 on Saturday, making birdie putts of 3 and 24 feet, and a tap-in from 5 inches at the ninth. His lone bogey came when he missed the green at the 11th hole, as well as an 11-footer to save, but he got that shot back with a 3-footer for birdie at the par-5 16th.
"I think I hit the ball well from tee to green, and I took a few of my chances early on," McIlroy said. "Actually had a couple of big saves around 4, 5 and 6, and just finished it off well. I took my chance on 16 and had a good chance at 17 and didn't make it but then holed a nice putt for par at the last."
McIlroy, who ranks third in the world, could take over No. 1 from Luke Donald with a win -- providing Donald finishes lower than 12th. The Englishman will start the final round in a tie for ninth at 4 under after a round of 71 Saturday.
Furyk's opening 63 has given everyone chasing him hope for the final round. That said, the threat of thunderstorms that prompted tournament officials to move tee times up to 8 a.m. and winds expected to gust over 25 mph on Sunday will only heighten the challenge.
"If I can go ahead and shoot a good one tomorrow and post a good finish or if I go ahead and get off to a really fast start and get myself right in there with a chance, then there's no better way to prepare for next week," McIlroy said.
By Fred Albers, PGA TOUR.COM Correspondent
Speedy: Wind swept over the Firestone on Saturday, turning fairways and greens into an ice rink. Golf balls raced down the course and the greens were rolling in excess of 13 on the Stimpmeter. Bubba Watson hit a 442-yard drive on the 648-yard 16 th hole. Louis Oosthuizen hit 6-iron into the 16th green. The added distance was not always a good thing. Several balls rolled through the fairways into the rough, making the course play very difficult.
Moving time: Tiger Woods shot 2 under and moved up 20 spots on the leaderboard. He is 24 th entering the final round. Woods said he found something in his stroke on the 17 th hole of Friday’s round to improve his putting. Did it help? He took 33 strokes on the green in the opening round, 29 on Friday and 31 putts in the third round. That Saturday total is deceptive since Woods hit 15 greens. He is tied for fourth in greens in regulation this week, hitting 39 of 54 -- but has taken 93 putts to rank 71 st in the 75-man field.
Hole locations: The course was set up with generous hole locations for the third round. Only two holes were cut less than five paces from the edge of any green. Officials anticipated the winds, which dried out the greens and made the course very difficult.
Louis, Louis: Louis Oosthuizen says he enjoys the way the Firestone course looks off the tee. He must also like the greens. The 2011 British Open champion has taken 31, 25 and 26 putts through each of his first three rounds. He ranks 10th in strokes gained-putting this week.
Ball striking: A lot has gone right for Jim Furyk this week. He is first in fairways hit with 29 of 42. He is T7 in greens in regulation at 38 of 58. Still, Furyk could not run away from the field on Saturday because of his putter. He took 31 putts while hitting 13 greens. Furyk had just one birdie and one bogey to go with 16 pars.
Belly putter: I’m convinced it’s the fiddler and not the fiddle when it comes to Keegan Bradley. He has the purest stroke with the belly putter. Bradley hit just 10 greens on Saturday but took only 24 putts to shoot 67. He made a 21-footer on the 13 th hole and has holed 255 feet of putts in three rounds. From inside of 10 feet Bradley has made 47 of 50 putts this week.
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.
AKRON, Ohio – What appeared headed for a runaway early Saturday tightened down the stretch, heightening the excitement heading into the final round of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
But Furyk ended up with a round of even par to finish at 11 under and the South African closed the gap to one when he came in with a 68. Keegan Bradley, who defends his PGA title next week, is alone in third at 7 under while Rory McIlroy and Steve Stricker are another stroke behind in a tie for sixth.
Furyk is looking for his first victory since his three-win 2010 season that also saw the 16-time PGA TOUR champ win the FedExCup and Player of the Year. Oosthuizen, who won the British Open the same season, nearly picked up his second major at the Masters earlier this year but lost to Bubba Watson in a playoff.
Tee times for the final round have been moved up due to thunderstorms expected to move into the area in the wee hours of Sunday. Players will be sent off the first and 10th tees beginning at 8 a.m.
AKRON, Ohio -- Louis Oosthuizen has closed the gap on Jim Furyk with a birdie on the par-5 16th hole at Firestone.
The South African, who won the 2010 British Open, was over the green in two, chipped to 3 feet and made the putt for his third birdie of the day against one bogey. He's now 10 under and one stroke behind Furyk, who had to make a 7-footer to save par at the same hole.
PGA champ Keegan Bradley is alone in third at 7 under after shooting 67 on Saturday. Rory McIlroy and Steve Stricker are another shot behind, tied for fourth, after rounds of 67 and 68, respectively.
AKRON, Ohio -- Jim Furyk just made his first bogey of the day and suddenly his lead has dwindled to just two shots.
Furyk missed the green at the par-3 12th, chipped to 11 feet and missed the par putt to fall back to 11 under. That bogey, coupled with Louis Oosthuizen's 25-footer for birdie on the same hole in the group ahead, certainly has tightened the leaderboard.
Steve Stricker, who birdied three straight starting at the eighth hole just made an 11-footer for birdie at the 15th hole to move to 8 under for the tournament. He's working on the best round among the leaders with four birdies and no bogeys.
Keegan Bradley, who was in the mix at year ago until shooting 41 on the back nine Sunday, is 3 under through 16 holes. He's 7 under for the tournament and in sole possession of fourth, a shot ahead of Rory McIlroy and K.T. Kim.
AKRON, Ohio -- The final group has just made the turn at Firestone and Jim Furyk owns a four-stroke lead.
The American has made one birdie and eight pars on the way to a 34 that left him 12 under for the tournament. His closest competitor is former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, who bounced back from a bogey at the eighth hole with a 4-footer at No. 9 turn even.
Keegan Bradley, who will defend his PGA title next week, is 3 under through 13 holes while Steve Stricker is the same, one hole behind. The two are tied for third at 7 under.
The group at 6 under includes world No. 1 Luke Donald, John Senden and K.T. Kim.
AKRON, Ohio -- Lee Westwood has played in 40 World Golf Championships, more than anyone else in history.
Westwood parred his first hole, then didn't make another until No. 9. In fact, he only made six pars all day -- along with 10 bogeys, one double bogey and just one birdie.
The 81 was Westwood's highest score ever at Firestone Country Club, eclipsing the 79 the affable Englishman shot in the third round in 2007. He's now 11 over and fell to 70th in the 75-man field after hitting just three fairways and nine greens on Saturday while taking 36 putts.
Westwood's playing partner, Phil Mickelson, had a tough day, too. He shot a 73 and is now 3 over for the tournament. Mickelson hit three fairways, five greens and used 26 putts.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AKRON, Ohio -- Tiger Woods saw progress with his putter on Saturday at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
Woods broke par for just the first time all week as he shot a third-round 68 and finished 54 holes at even par. Granted, he used 31 putts -- his second highest total of the week -- but he managed three birdies and only dropped one shot to par.
The world No. 2 continued to hit his irons well, finding 15 of 18 greens in regulation, his highest total of the week, despite hitting just six fairways. For the week, he's hit 39 of 54 greens in regulation and 22 of 42 fairways.
So given the way he was playing tee to green, Woods said he wasn't overly concerned by the inconsistency with his putter. A TOUR record-tying eighth Bridgestone Invitational title may be out of reach but Woods was generally encouraged by his play.
"I hit the ball well enough, as I said, to be in the top five and could have made a run just by being in that position if I would have putted well the first couple days,” Woods said. “I'm not that far off and just got to play one solid round tomorrow, if we play tomorrow, and get ready for the PGA."
Woods said he worked on his alignment Friday afternoon and began to get his feel back with the putter. "My blade was releasing properly again, and it felt really comfortable," he reported.
Woods said he enjoyed playing with Braden Grace for the third straight day. Grace, who has won three times on the European Tour this year as Woods has on the PGA TOUR, was 7 under through his first 10 holes and finished with a 66.
"Today I hit the ball well and made some putts, so ... I thought I was playing pretty well ... through, I'll say, 11 holes, but I was getting killed by my playing partner," Woods said. "I thought I was playing well, but he was playing better. So it was a good day. We both had some good rounds today, and it was good to finish up on a positive note."
Grace, for his part, seemed to get more relaxed with each day. He opened with a 72, shot 70 with 18 pars in the second round and finished off a 66 on Saturday.
"I think yesterday was pretty much all right, as well, just the first day was a little bit hectic," Grace said. "Obviously the first time playing with Tiger was an experience of its own. Obviously the crowds and everything has been great. But like I say, this golf course, you need to get to know it.
"Yesterday I played a lot better. Obviously I didn't make a birdie or a bogey yesterday, but it was nice to go out there today and know that the birdies were there for the making, and I made a couple."
Grace said all his friends have been calling and asking what it is like to play with Woods.
"I've played with him three days in a row has been unreal," Grace said. "I've learned a hell of a lot from playing with him. The way he plays shots, the way he handles himself and things like that has been great. He's there because he is the best in the world. I've seen it now, and I think (the) people ... that criticize him is wrong.
“He's one hell of a guy, and he's pretty much the nicest guy I've ever played with."
AKRON, Ohio -- Overnight leader Jim Furyk has only played two holes and already he's doubled his lead on the rest of the field.
A par at No. 1 was good enough to extend Furyk's lead to three. That's because playing partner Rafael Carbrera-Bello, who trailed by two, made double bogey after barely getting out of a greenside bunker, shanking his chip and two-putting from 43 feet.
Furyk then birdied the par-5 second from the fringe to move to 12 under. Louis Oosthuizen is currently alone in second at 8 under after opening with three straight pars while Cabrera-Bello and Jason Dufner are tied, another stroke off the pace.