KIAWAH ISLAND, South Carolina - The threat of lightning cut short Saturday's third round of the PGA Championship but not before Rory McIlroy had electrified the crowds and Tiger Woods slid backwards under a darkening sky.
Northern Irishman McIlroy, who had not contended for a major title since he won his first at last year's U.S. Open, dazzled with a stunning run of five birdies in his first eight holes to briefly lead by two shots at seven under par.
Though he bogeyed the ninth to end the day level at the top with Fijian Vijay Singh, the mop-haired 23-year-old was in a prime position to push on for victory when the play resumes at Kiawah Island Golf Resort on Sunday.
McIlroy, long regarded as heir apparent to Woods as the game's leading player, will have to play 27 gruelling holes on Sunday but he oozed confidence when he spoke to reporters after played was called off on Saturday.
“I've put myself in a nice position going into tomorrow... and that's all I really wanted to do,” McIlroy told reporters. “And it being 27 holes, I definitely don't mind. I don't mind if it takes a while to get done.
“I'm just in great position... and that's all I can really ask for. I'm happy with where I am.”
Woods, however, was far from happy with his own position after once again squandering a golden opportunity to tighten his grip on a 15th major title.
Two months ago at the U.S. Open in San Francisco, he shared the lead going into the third round but faded over the weekend with closing scores of 75 and 73.
For the first two days at Kiawah Island, he seemed to be the Tiger of old with his game in prime form as he opened with scores of 69 and 71 to share the 36-hole lead with Singh and Swede Carl Pettersson.
On Saturday, however, he missed a four-foot birdie putt at the par-four third before his round unravelled with a series of wayward drives and approach shots.
Woods hit a spectator with his drive at the fourth en route to a bogey five and also dropped shots at the fifth and seventh to slide five strokes off the pace set by McIlroy and Singh.
“I got off to a rough start today and couldn't get anything going,” said Woods, who has not a major title since his playoff victory at the 2008 U.S. Open.
“I'll come back tomorrow morning and see what happens. There are a lot of holes left to play.”
The one thing possibly in Woods' favour is that the leaderboard is tightly bunched and 17 players are within five shots of the lead, and the break overnight on Saturday may energise his game.
Trouble is never far away at Kiawah with its elevated greens that can be difficult to hold, despite the rain-softened conditions, given the likelihood of tricky crosswinds in Sunday's final round.
“There are still a lot of guys with a chance to win going into tomorrow; 27 holes left, you've still got a long way to go,” McIlroy said.
Triple major winner Padraig Harrington of Ireland also likes his position, trailing by five shots at one under after completing a three-under-par 69 shortly before play was suspended on Saturday.
“Six under is not too far away,” Harrington said of the current lead. “But if there's a lot of guys up there at six under it's too much for me to do tomorrow maybe.
“If four under is in the last couple of groups, it means one under still has a chance.”
Harrington's one regret was that the leading groups did not have to contend with the stiffening breezes on the more difficult back nine on Saturday.
“We'll just have to wait and see how it all pans out,” said the 40-year-old, who has not triumphed on the PGA Tour since the 2008 PGA Championship.
“I would have settled for the guys to play the same conditions we played, have them play the back nine in the wind because the back nine was a lot tougher than the front nine.
“But it's not to be, so we'll see what happens.” – Reuters