Phil Casey, PA Golf Correspondent
Rory McIlroy’s bid to end his major drought suffered a significant early blow in the third round of the US PGA Championship at a chilly Southern Hills.
McIlroy began the day five shots off the lead held by American Will Zalatoris after failing to take full advantage of a flying start and favourable draw, the four-time major winner adding a second round of 71 to his opening 65 in Tulsa.
With Zalatoris and nearest challenger Mito Pereira both yet to win on the PGA Tour, McIlroy would have been hoping to exploit his experience in pursuit of a first major title since 2014, when he won the US PGA at Valhalla.
However, after a run of five straight pars McIlroy pulled his tee shot to the par-three sixth into the water and ran up a double-bogey five to drop back to two under par.
Zalatoris was also two over par for his first five holes but Chile’s Pereira, who was playing just the second major of his career, had birdied the second and fifth to reach 10 under par and enjoy a three-shot lead.
A 30-degree drop in temperature and a change in wind direction was making scoring difficult, although Webb Simpson made a big move up the leaderboard with a back nine of 30 in a superb 65.
“I think it’s probably top two or three best rounds I’ve ever had in a major, considering the conditions,” Simpson said.
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“Today was a test of the mind as well as physically because we have a mist out there all day, clubface is getting a little wet, it’s blowing sideways.
“We’ve gone from 92 degrees to what we had today, so the ball is going way shorter. So there’s a lot of adjusting on the fly, and I typically don’t like to play when it’s colder weather, so I surprised myself a bit today. But I’ll take it.”
Simpson’s score was what Tiger Woods had been targeting after making the halfway cut with a shot to spare, but the 15-time major winner struggled to a 79 and admitted afterwards he was not certain to play the final round.
“Well, I’m sore. I know that for a fact,” Woods said. “We’ll do some work and see how it goes.”