CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When Rory McIlroy rolled in an 8-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole, he started thinking about shooting 59.
He didn’t quite get there Saturday, settling for an 11-under 61 to break the Quail Hollow record and take a four-shot lead in the Wells Fargo Championship.
After making nine birdies in a 10-hole stretch, the top-ranked McIlroy pushed his 7-iron on the par-3 17th hole to the right side of the green 40 feet from the cup. He settled for par and the dream was dashed.
“I was little disappointed with not finishing it off the way I wanted to, but still it was a great run,” McIlroy said.
It was McIlroy’s best round on the PGA Tour, but not his best ever.
He said he had a putt for 59 on the 18th hole at The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Florida, leading up to the Masters, but missed it.
“I left it short,” McIlroy said with a laugh.
He didn’t leave much short Saturday.
He started the balmy afternoon three shots behind Webb Simpson and Robert Streb.
But after two pars to start the day made five birdies on the front nine for a 31. He didn’t let up on the back, birdieing six of the first seven holes.
McIlroy had a sense early on this could be his day to go low after he saw Justin Thomas shoot a 65 and a few others go low in the morning.
“I knew that there were scores out there to be had – and I got a little more aggressive,” McIlroy said.
That included driving the green on the 345-yard, par-4 14th hole for the fourth time in his career – more than any player in tournament history.
“I feel like it’s one of these courses I can get on a roll with,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy is looking to become the first two-time winner of the event. At 18-under 198, he’s on pace to shatter the tournament record of 16 under set by Anthony Kim in 2008.
McIlroy said the Quail Hollow course sets up perfectly for him, which is why he decided to play the event after some debate.
He set the previous course record of 62 in the final round of his 2010 Wells Fargo victory, and Brendon de Jonge matched it last year.
“It’s funny that it has happened here again,” McIlroy said.
Simpson was second after three rounds, four strokes back after a 68. Streb shot a 71 and was seven shots behind heading into the final round on Sunday.
Phil Mickelson was playing well before a triple bogey on the 18th hole, which has become his nemesis. That dropped Mickelson to 71 on the day and left him 10 shots behind McIlroy and out of contention for a tournament he has never won.
Mickelson double bogeyed the 18th hole Thursday.
When asked what he took away from McIlroy’s round, playing partner Will MacKenzie said: “That he’s way better than me at golf.”
“It’s going to be tough to beat him,” MacKenzie said. “I’m glad that he doesn’t play every week. I mean that guy, he’s just – he’s head and shoulders above me.”
McIlroy’s run proved to be a bit demoralizing for the competition.
Simpson looked up at the scoreboard after his own birdie at 13 figuring he was tied for the lead, only to learn he was three shots back.
“I gave that look like, `Oh, really – on this golf course?'” Simpson said.
Six players have shot 59 in official PGA Tour events. Al Geiberger did it in the 1977 Memphis Classic, Chip Beck in the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational, David Duval in the final round of his 1999 victory in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, Paul Goydos in the 2010 John Deere Classic, Stuart Appleby in the 2010 Greenbrier Classic and Jim Furyk in the 2013 BMW Championship.
Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa shot the lowest round on a major tour, a 12-under 58 to win the 2010 Crowns on the Japan Tour.