(Reuters) – Rory McIlroy grabbed a one-shot lead over Brooks Koepka in the third round at the WGC-St. Jude Invitational in Memphis on Saturday, setting up the prospect of a mouth-watering finale.
McIlroy finished in style with three successive birdies, coaxing in a 27-foot putt at the last to take the lead with an eight-under-par 62 in ideal conditions at TPC Southwind.
The Northern Irishman posted a 12-under 198 total, one stroke better than fellow four-times major champion Koepka, who had a seven-birdie 64.
Halfway leader Matthew Fitzpatrick of England slipped two shots off the pace with an inconsistent 69 in the World Golf Championships event.
Spaniard Jon Rahm, Australian Marc Leishman and Swede Alex Noren are three shots behind, certainly not out of it even though all eyes will be on the two frontrunners.
McIlroy and Koepka will be paired on Sunday, their first time playing together in the final round of a PGA Tour event.
McIlroy, who missed the cut last week at the British Open in his homeland at Royal Portrush, said precise wedge play had been the key to his score on Saturday.
“I had a lot of good (approach yardage) numbers where I could go ahead and make a full committed swing,” he told CBS television.
“I just dialled my distances in today with the wedges. It worked today. One of my goals was to hit it pin high and I hit it pin high most of the day.”
He also putted well.
“These greens are so pure if you get it on line and get it rolling properly,” he said. “I’ve holed a lot of putts this week.”
World number one Koepka hit 17 greens in regulation and converted many of his birdie chances.
“I saw some putts go in,” he said. “The hole seemed to open up for me today.”
Koepka, who has been second (Masters), first (PGA Championship), second (U.S. Open) and fourth (British Open) in the majors this year, sounded typically relaxed and enthused about the prospect of taking on McIlroy.
“Rory is going to come out firing,” said the American. “You know he’s going to play a good one. I’m just going to have to take it deep.
“I feel every time I tee it up I’ve got a chance to make some history. It’s a neat place to be.
“I’m playing some incredible golf right now and I’m enjoying it while it lasts but tomorrow it’s going to be difficult.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; editing by Clare Fallon)