LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Rickie Fowler is giving himself so many chances in the majors, he’s bound to break through one of these days.
He has been the runner-up in the past two majors and was fifth at the Masters, so it’s not shocking that Fowler is within reach of leader Rory McIlory at the PGA Championship.
But winning his first major will again require clearing the world’s best player, a tall order considering McIlroy isn’t letting up.
Then again neither is the 25-year-old former Oklahoma State star from California. He shot a 4-under 67 on Saturday in the third round at Valhalla and stands alone in third at 11 under, two shots behind McIlroy.
Fowler credited McIlroy’s driving prowess, especially in recent weeks.
“If he continues to do that, he’s not going to back up and we are definitely going to have to go out and show him that we’re around,” Fowler said. “If someone is going to beat him, they are going to earn it.”
Fowler took advantage of soft greens to card four birdies, including one at the par-5 18th hole, to cap his cleanest round this weekend. He’ll be paired with buddy Phil Mickelson in the next-to-last group Sunday as both try to deny McIlroy a third straight victory.
Fowler can feel good about earning another shot at a major victory. He has gone 27 straight holes without a bogey, steadiness that briefly put him in a five-way tie for the lead at 10 under before McIlroy broke away with three birdies down the stretch.
What pleased Fowler were tee shots and approaches that mostly landed where he wanted, leaving him with makeable par putts along with those birdies.
Fowler took full advantage of the par-5s and just missed an eagle on 18 when his putt broke left.
“I’m pleased with my round,” he said. “I wouldn’t exactly ask anything more out of it. Just maybe the putts that didn’t go in today, they go in tomorrow.”
Fowler would certainly welcome more final-round luck after falling just short in majors.
At last month’s British Open, Fowler started the final round six shots behind McIlroy before shooting a 5-under 67 to tie for second with Sergio Garcia, two shots behind. That effort followed his second-place tie at the U.S. Open along with his fifth-place effort at Augusta National.
While Fowler hasn’t wondered what might have been in those events, he goes through a pre-major mental checklist of where his game is. Thanks to his work with coach Butch Harmon to improve his play in the marquee events, he has posted top-five showings in all three and is poised again to go over the top.
He doesn’t plan any tweaks, even with McIlroy as the target, except maybe the ending.
“I still need to stick with my game plan and what we’ve established on how we want to play the golf course,” he said. “Maybe there’s some pins down the stretch where if I need to make some birdies, I’ll be able to tighten some things up and maybe try to make some things happen if I have to.
“But I’m not going to change anything. I like where my game is at right now, both physically and on the mental side with where I’m going and through my process before each shot, making sure I’m ready.”
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