Sergio Garcia maintained a three-stroke lead after the third round at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, on Saturday, while Rory McIlroy loomed large in second place as the two Europeans set the stage for another showdown.
Two weeks after McIlroy staved off a final-round challenge from Garcia to win the British Open, the Northern Irishman will be the hunter instead of the hunted.
Garcia, coming off a course record-equalling 61, was solid rather than spectacular as he fashioned a three-under-par 67 at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
He posted a 14-under 196 total with one round left, while McIlroy birdied the final two holes, rolling in a 35-footer at the last to card a 66 for 11-under.
Not that it was only a two-horse race after a round that was interrupted for more than three hours by storms.
Marc Leishman was four shots behind, while another Australian, world No. 1 Adam Scott, was five back with Englishman Justin Rose and American Keegan Bradley.
“I misread a couple of putts here and there and hit a couple of not so good putts,” Garcia told CBS television, otherwise expressing overall satisfaction with his game and welcoming the chance to potentially duel again with McIlroy.
“I’ve felt very comfortable throughout the whole week, so hopefully I’ll be able to do the same thing [on Sunday], just like he [McIlroy] did to me at Hoylake and hopefully keep him just behind me,” Garcia said.
McIlroy, for his part, was relishing the chance to pursue the man with whom he is to form the backbone of the European team for next month’s Ryder Cup.
McIlroy had to win and Scott finish worse than fifth for that to happen.
The presence of four of the world’s five top-ranked players on the leaderboard overshadowed the continuing struggles of Americans Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the most successful two players of the past two decades.
They were 15 and 17 strokes behind respectively, and have only one more competitive round to find their game before next week’s PGA Championship.