PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Rory McIlroy took another step to becoming the No. 1 player in the world Saturday afternoon.
McIlroy posted 4-under-par 66 in a wind-whipped third round of The Honda Classic at PGA National’s Champion course. He enters today at 11-under through 54 holes, two shots ahead of former University of Georgia golfer Harris English and journeyman Tom Gillis.
The reigning U.S. Open champion, McIlroy is bidding to become the first top-ranked player from Northern Ireland a week after having his initial bid denied. He would have climbed to No. 1 last week, but he lost to Hunter Mahan in the WGC-Match Play Championship finals.
With a win today, McIlroy will take the reins from current No. 1, Englishman Luke Donald.
“I definitely feel like I need to put it out of my mind tomorrow,” McIlroy said. “I need to focus on just trying to win this golf tournament.”
A PGA Tour rookie, English matched McIlroy for the day’s low round at 66. With the wind blowing between 15-25 mph in the afternoon, Gillis posted a solid 69 to remain within striking distance. English and Gillis each are trying to win to earn a spot into April’s Masters Tournament.
“It’d be an amazing accomplishment,” the 22-year-old English said. “That’s something I’ve always wanted to do when I was growing up.”
English’s former Georgia teammate, Brian Harman, also is in the mix, four shots back. Also a tour rookie, Harman posted 69 and is tied for fourth place with Keegan Bradley (68) and Justin Rose (71).
Today’s round begins at 8:30 a.m. with players going off split tees in threesomes, because of thunderstorms expected in the afternoon.
Tiger Woods enters today with a nine-shot deficit. In the third round, he birdied three holes in a five-hole stretch on the front nine but went on to shoot 69. He is tied for 18th place at 2-under.
“I hit it good. I putted good,” Woods said. “Boy, it was really close to being a really low round today.”
Augusta native Charles Howell bogeyed his first two holes but held steady for 72. He is tied for 14th place, eight shots back.
Vaughn Taylor, of Evans, began the day at 6-under but he hit a pair of wayward drives on Nos. 9 and 11 that led to bogeys. Taylor settled for 74 and is tied for 18th.