CHARLOTTE, N.C. —
Even so, what had been shaping up as duel now looks more like a shootout, with a dozen players within three shots of the lead.
One of them was Rory McIlroy, who celebrated his 24th birthday by missing seven putts in the 5-foot range or closer. He had a 73 and didn’t lose any ground on the lead.
“I think they may have given me a little bit of a birthday present right there,” McIlroy said. “I’m only three back heading into tomorrow, and that’s as good as I could ask for.”
John Senden completed his round of 67 some three hours before the leaders finished. Ryan Moore was right behind him with a 68. They were among six players who were tied for fourth, two shots behind. That group included Lee Westwood, who made two birdies and two bogeys in his otherwise boring round of 72.
The starting time for Sunday has been moved up because of rain in the forecast, with the final round starting at 6:45 a.m. Given the forecast, Mickelson treated Saturday like the final round in case Sunday — and perhaps even Monday — is a wash and the tournament is reduced to 54 holes. He made a 7-foot par putt on the 18th to tie Watney.
“It was some poor play coming down the stretch,” Mickelson said.
McIlroy didn’t need to be reminded that it was his birthday.
Fans serenaded or shouted to him on just about every hole. If all he wanted was to make some putts, Boy Wonder didn’t get his wish. At times, it became a cruel joke.
He stuffed his shot into just inside 3 feet on the third hole and missed the birdie, and that was just the start of it.
He missed another putt inside 3 feet that gave him a double bogey on the ninth hole. Add it up and McIlroy missed seven putts from the 5-foot range, along with a 7-foot putt on the eighth.