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McIlroy in contention as Stricker leads

Updated: Sunday, 05 Jun 2011 10:39

Rory McIlroy - An eagle on the 15th kept the Holywood man in touch at the Memorial
Rory McIlroy - An eagle on the 15th kept the Holywood man in touch at the Memorial

Rory McIlroy hit an eagle on the 15th to remain in contention at the Memorial tournament as American Steve Stricker faded after making a scorching start to the third round.

World number eight, Stricker spectacularly eagled two of his first five holes on a sweltering afternoon at Muirfield Village Golf Club but dropped two shots after the turn on the way to a three-under-par 69 to preserve his three-shot overnight lead.

That left Stricker at 12-under 204 in the event hosted by Jack Nicklaus, with compatriot Jonathan Byrd in second spot after tapping in a two-foot birdie putt at the last for a matching 69.

Americans Matt Kuchar (68) and Brandt Jobe (69) were tied for third at eight under, one stroke better than compatriots Mark Wilson (66) and Shaun Micheel (67) and McIlroy (71).

‘It was a perfect start,’ Stricker told reporters after staying on track to claim his 10th PGA Tour title.

‘A little disappointing that I kind of let it slip away on the back nine and didn't really finish the round like I had hoped.

‘But all in all, a good day. A 69 around here is a good score and I've still got a three-shot lead, so I'm in good position heading into Sunday.’

Byrd, who won his fifth PGA Tour title at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January, liked his own prospects in the final round.

‘I'm playing great golf right now, and you never know what's going to happen,’ said Byrd, who will play with Stricker in the final pairing on Sunday.

‘This is a tough golf course. You can make bogeys at any stage of the game, and you've just got to keep playing and give yourself a chance.’

Three ahead of the chasing pack overnight, Stricker made an explosive start by holing out with a sand wedge from 114 yards to eagle the par-four second.

He also eagled the par-five fifth, hitting a three-iron to seven feet and rolling in the putt to stretch his lead to four strokes at 13 under.

That made him only the 13th player on the PGA Tour since 1983 to record eagles on a par-three, a par-four and a par-five hole in the same tournament. He had aced the par-three eighth in Friday's second round.

Although Stricker bogeyed the par-four sixth after overhitting the green with his approach, he picked up further shots at the seventh and eighth, where he sank a 24-footer, to regain a four-stroke cushion.

However, he struggled to maintain momentum on the more difficult back nine with the course running fast and firm and leaving no margin for error with tee shots and approaches.

He bogeyed the par-five 15th after his first two shots ended up in the left rough and also the par-three 16th after ending up in a greenside bunker and missing a four-foot putt.

Long regarded as one of the best putters on the PGA Tour, Stricker lipped out with a birdie attempt from seven feet at the par-four 17th before parring the last.

‘I started missing some putts,’ said Stricker, who failed to sink a four-footer for birdie at the 14th after twice backing away.

‘All of a sudden things seemed pretty hard when, at the start of the day, things were really going my way.’

Kuchar could sympathise, having birdied seven of the first 10 holes to claim outright second place before dropping shots at 15 and the last.

‘A little disheartening,’ the world number seven said. ‘I felt like I really had it going and it's a little disappointing to drop a couple coming in, but it's a tough golf course.

‘It's going to take a low number for anybody to knock Steve Stricker tomorrow to have a chance (to win).’

McIlroy, the first-round leader, had problems as he double bogeyed the par-three fourth, hit the pond on the 11th to bogey to finish on 71.

That put the Holywood man five off the lead and still in with a chance providing his fortunes improve on the final day.

Luke Donald's 73 left him at four under, eight shots off and tied for 17th while Phil Mickelson was a further two back after a bad few days.

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