Rory McIlroy in good shape for Irish Open bid but it's Jason's day
Rory McIlroy needed so much more than his two under par 70 to turn up the heat at the Players Championship at Sawgrass, the world number three finishing seven under, seven behind winner Jason Day.
McIlroy jets back across the pond this week to host the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at the K Club and returns home showing signs that his first tournament victory of the year may not be too far away, his second round 64 a sign of a return to top form.
The 27-year-old climbed into third place last night with three birdies in the first 11 holes before a bogey on the 13th, where he pulled his tee shot into the water, dropped him back to seven under.
That eventually saw him finish a shot behind fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell who fired a classy three under par 69.
American Justin Thomas set the clubhouse target in the final round of the Players Championship as a shocking blunder from world number one Jason Day raised the prospect of a thrilling finish.
Thomas took advantage of the more benign conditions at Sawgrass yesterday to surge through the field with a closing 65, the 23-year-old carding eight birdies and one bogey to finish 10 under par.
Day began the final round with a four-shot lead on 14 under, but struggled to reproduce the form which saw him equal the course record on Thursday and set a tournament record of 129 at the halfway stage.
And when he followed a bogey on the sixth with another on the ninth after amazingly fluffing three consecutive chips from the side of the green, his lead was down to two shots over former Walker Cup player Thomas.
Day was looking to join Tiger Woods (twice), Tom Watson and Johnny Miller in recording multiple wire-to-wire wins in a season following his victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
And the 28-year-old Australian was also seeking his 10th PGA Tour title, a third win of 2016 and an incredible seventh victory in his last 17 events, a run which included his record-breaking first major title in the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
Victory would also see Day join Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Martin Kaymer as the only players to win the Players Championship, a major title and a WGC event in their career.
Justin Rose was among the players to show what was possible in the conditions, the former US Open champion finishing five under after a closing 66 containing two bogeys and eight birdies, the last four coming in a row from the 14th.
"They definitely backed up the greens today," Rose said.
"I think there was only one cut and one roll instead of... I don't know what the heck they did yesterday.
"It was fun. We knew we were going to get some decent scoring conditions playing early this morning so it was nice to finish strong with a 66."
Rose was one of the few players to take a positive approach to the tough conditions despite a 78 on Saturday, seeing them as good preparation for the upcoming US Open at Oakmont.
"Once I got my head around it I quite enjoyed the challenge and relished it because Oakmont is going to be somewhat similar," the world number 10 added. "Once my score started going sideways I started to use it as practice to get my eye in."
Day was the last player in the field to register a birdie in the final round, but holing from 15 feet on the 10th increased his lead to three shots as Thomas spoke to reporters following his 65.
"It feels great," said Thomas, who won his first PGA Tour title in Malaysia last year. "I feel like I really played well all week, I just didn't have much to show for it. It was nice to finish well."