SHANGHAI (AP) — On a day when eight players had a chance to take the lead at the HSBC Champions, Rory McIlroy found the best way to move forward was to not go backward.
He didn’t get the most out of his round Saturday at Sheshan International.
But he had the lead.
“I’m not going to complain,” McIlroy said after 5-under 67 with no bogeys on his card. “I’m in the lead going into tomorrow. Just need to rest up and try to get out there and play another good, solid round of golf.”
McIlroy hit a towering lob wedge that spun down the ridge to 3 feet for birdie on the par-5 closing hole to take a one-shot lead over Louis Oosthuizen on a day of big runs and unseemly collapses.
He had neither.
McIlroy only had to stress twice for par, and not after the third hole. He wound up at 15-under 201 as he goes for his first World Golf Championship since 2015, his fourth victory of the year and a chance to move a little closer to the No. 1 ranking.
Oosthuizen began the third round with five straight birdies and finished with two birdies over his last three holes for a 65.
“Five in a row and then just played decent,” Oosthuizen said. “Need to have another good one tomorrow.”
Li Haotong of China had a robust crowd going early with five birdies through six holes to take the lead, only to shoot 42 on the back nine for a 74 that knocked him out of contention.
Defending champion Xander Schauffele felt a little better in his fight to recover from the flu, and it showed early when he opened with three straight birdies and missed an 8-foot putt that would have been four in a row. He overcame a few mistakes around the turn and finished with three straight birdies for a 68 to finish two off the lead and get into the final group.
This is the only World Golf Championships event where no one has won back-to-back, and Schauffele is in the best shape to try to keep the WGCs in American hands for the eighth straight time.
“I wasn’t expecting to play this well at the beginning of the week, so I’m probably the happiest guy in the tournament,” he said.
Schauffele was tied at 13-under with Matt Fitzpatrick (70), who kept his bogey-free streak going with a 70-foot par putt on the fifth hole, only to miss a 4-foot par putt on the seventh hole, his first bogey since the first hole of the tournament.
He dropped two more shots on the back and didn’t make enough birdies — or as many birdies as everyone around him on another prime afternoon in Shanghai — to keep pace.
Eight players were within five shots of the lead, including Sungjae Im (70) and Match Play champion Kevin Kisner (67), both hopeful of being wild-card selections next week for the Presidents Cup.
But they are chasing McIlroy, no small task when he’s swinging like this.
“Played with Rory the last two rounds last week. He’s absolutely striping it,” Oosthuizen said. “I need to play really good golf tomorrow.”
Oosthuizen did his part early with five straight birdies, and he wasn’t alone in making a move up the leaderboard. When the final group reached the par-5 eighth hole, the leaderboard behind the green had Li at 13 under, three others at 12 under, and two more at 11 under. McIlroy was 2 under at that point and felt as though he wasn’t getting enough out of his round.
McIlroy missed a 5-foot birdie putt, but he answered with a bold 7-iron over the water to 4 feet for birdie on the ninth. More importantly, he didn’t give anything back.
“I guess at that point I felt like I needed to get more out of my round to get into the lead, but the back nine played tough,” he said. “I did what I needed to do. I birdied the two par 5s and didn’t drop any shots.”
He left that to everyone around him.
Li’s problems started behind the eighth green with a shot so delicate out of the Bermuda rough that he stubbed it only a few inches. He did well to escape with bogey. But on the 13th, Li went from a greenside bunker over the green and into a hazard, leading to triple bogey. He bogeyed his last two holes.
Adam Scott was two shots out of the lead until a double bogey on the par-5 eight, and bogeys on the ninth and 11th holes. He never recovered and hit into the water on the 18th, getting up-and-down to save par for a 75.
Paul Waring of England had eight birdies until going into the water on the 18th for a bogey and a 66, leaving him three shots back.
And then there was Phil Mickelson, who made only two pars over his final 13 holes — along with four birdies and seven bogeys — for a 75 that left him 14 shots behind. In a tie for 38th, Mickelson is likely to soon end his streak of nearly 26 years in the top 50, a record for the Official World Golf Ranking.
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