Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - It wasn't his best round, and he has plenty of company behind him, but Rory McIlroy birdied the last hole on Saturday for a 1-shot lead after 54 holes at the PGA Championship.
McIlroy birdied three of the last four holes for a 4-under 67 in the third round. The 2012 PGA Champion stands at 13-under-par 200.
"I came from three shots behind last week, and the guys got pretty close to me at the Open Championship and they got close to me again today and I was able to respond like I did on the back nine," McIlroy said. "It's not the biggest lead I ever had, but I'm still in control of this golf tournament and it's a great position to be in going into (Sunday)."
Among his closest challengers is a relatively unknown Austrian, Bernd Wiesberger. The two-time winner on the European Tour fired a 6-under 65 to match the low round of the day at Valhalla. Wiesberger is one stroke off the lead at minus-12.
Rickie Fowler has finished inside the top-5 at the seasons first three majors, and has put himself in position to make it four in a row. Fowler shot 4-under 67 on Saturday and is alone in third at 11-under 202.
Phil Mickelson also posted a 67 in round three. He shares fourth place at minus-10 with Jason Day, who birdied the last for a 2-under 69.
Henrik Stenson and 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen posted matching 4-under 67s in the third round. They share sixth place with Mikko Ilonen and Ryan Palmer, who both shot 69 on Saturday. Palmer had a share of the lead after 13 holes, but played the last five holes in 1-over par to fall four strokes back.
Steve Stricker (68), Jamie Donaldson (66) and Graham DeLaet (68) are tied for 10th at minus-8. They are among 11 players within five strokes of McIlroy's lead.
Six different players had at least a piece of the lead during the third round, but it was the three-time major champion that had an answer for all their charges.
McIlroy bogeyed the 12th to fall into a share of the lead with Fowler and Palmer. Wiesberger had stuffed his approach at the 16th with three feet, then was even closer at 17. The Austrians second nearly dropped into the cup as he stopped six inches from the hole.
After Wiesberger kicked that in, he briefly was in the lead by himself. McIlroy parred 13 and 14 before he rolled in a 21-footer for birdie at the 15th to join Wiesberger at 11-under.
McIlroy made it two in a row as he dropped his approach at the 16th to two feet. Wiesberger answer with a stellar chip at 18. After mis-hitting his second to the par-5 closing hole, Wiesberger chipped to six inches and kicked that in for a closing birdie.
That gave him a share of the lead once again. And once again, McIlroy had an answer.
McIlroy missed a 32-foot birdie try at 17. He came up short of the 18th green with his second, but blasted out of a bunker to seven feet and he poured that birdie putt in to finish 54 holes where he was after 36 holes, ahead by one.
"I saw that Phil was making a run, saw that Rickie was making a few birdies, and obviously Wiesberger too. I just knew that I needed to make a couple coming down the back nine to keep the lead I had, or at least be tied for the lead going in to tomorrow. The two birdies on 15 and 16 were huge, and to get up and down out of the bunker on 18 was big."
Early in the round, McIlroy was scrambling to find his game. He parred the first three holes. With tees moved up on No. 4 to make the green driveable, McIlroy found a creek left of the green. After taking his drop, he got up and down for par.
As good as that par save was, Day had a better one earlier. At the second, Day's drive sailed left of a creek and in a hazard. After walking through the creek and playing a bare-footed second shot back to the fairway, Day got up and down for his par.
McIlroy's stellar par spurred him on as he converted a 12-foot birdie try on No. 5 and got up and down from a bunker for birdie at the seventh. He was at 11-under and two clear of the field at that point.
The Ulsterman came up just short of the par-three eighth. After a poor chip, McIlroy missed the par putt to trim his lead to one. Around the turn, he played his third at No. 10 to 11 feet and made that birdie putt to move back to minus-11.
McIlroy stumbled to another bogey two holes later, but made a charge in the final three holes to reclaim the lead.
Wiesberger made a slow climb up the leaderboard. He birdied the fourth and ninth to make the turn at 8-under. Wiesberger picked up another birdie on the 12th before his late run got him within one of the lead.
"It was good out there. I really enjoyed playing with Phil first of all. We had some good crowds cheering, cheering him mainly, it was a good experience, and very proud the way I played today obviously," said Wiesberger. "I know what I'm capable of doing. I know if I drive the ball well and don't get ahead of myself, I can play good golf. You know, I was kind of surprised that I was really calm today out on the first tee box. And hitting the first tee shot down the center obviously was a bit of a relief there."
Day, who played alongside McIlroy, converted back to-back birdies at four and five to join McIlroy atop the leaderboard at 10-under. Day tripped to a bogey on No. 6 and fell off the pace. He birdied the 13th to regain a piece of the lead, but played the last five holes in even-par to end three back.
Fowler picked up birdies on the third and seventh to move to 9-under. Around the turn, he rolled in a 17-foot birdie chance at 10 to grab a share of the lead. However, Fowler's next birdie was at the 18th as he finished two back.
"There's a lot less to explain than yesterday. Got all the par-5s and hit a really good shot into three. Other than that, pretty simple. I had to be very patient out there today," said Fowler. "I was playing really well, swinging it very well. Had a lot of looks for birdies, especially on the back nine, and just had some mainly some misreading there for the most part on the high side."
Palmer also had two birdies, at Nos. 5 and 7, on the front nine. He ran home a 33-footer for birdie at the 11th to move to 10-under. Palmer parred the next two holes, and McIlroy fell back into a share of the lead with Palmer, who parred five in a row from the 12th before a bogey at 17 left him at 9-under.
Furyk birdied the fourth to gain a share of the lead. He dipped back to minus-8 with a bogey on the eighth. Furyk birdied No. 10, but bogeys at 15 and 16 dropped him well off the pace.
NOTES: McIlroy has the 54-hole lead for the seventh time on the PGA Tour ... He has won four of the previous six times he was in that position, including two of the three times he had the 54-hole lead in majors ... McIlroy has eight wins on both the PGA and European Tours ... If he wins tomorrow, McIlroy will be the fourth youngest to win his fourth major championship ... Wiesberger, who is 70 in the world rankings, had only made one cut in his previous five majors ... He shared 64th at the Open Championship last year in that one made cut ... Fowler has finished tied for fifth, tied for second and tied for second in the first three majors this year.