Rory McIlroy's sights set on 2nd straight major

Can Rory McIlroy win his third straight tournament and second straight major?
Rory McIlroy is better prepared mentally and physically to be a front-runner.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The final pairing for the final round of the 96th PGA Championship will feature the world's top-ranked and hottest golfer, one who, like Tiger or Phil, only needs his first name of Rory for widespread recognition.

And then there's Rory McIlroy's playing partner Sunday, Bernd Wiesberger.

"Can you correctly pronounce your first name for us?" came one of the first questions for Wiesberger after the Austrian's bogey-free, 6-under 65 tied for Saturday's low round.

The PGA Championship has produced its share of unlikely champions and Weisberger, who almost got asked as much about his skiing as his golf, certainly would qualify. Particularly because he would have to topple McIlroy, who stared down every challenge as he navigated Valhalla Golf Club's layout in 4-under.

At 13-under, McIlroy owns a one-stroke lead over Wiesberger in his quest for his third straight victory and to be the first to win consecutive major championships in the same year since Padraig Harrington in 2008. Rickie Fowler sits two strokes back, while Jason Day and Phil Mickelson are tied at 10-under.

"I'm loving it," McIlroy said of his recent run. "We don't practice all these hours and grind on the range and put so much work into it to be teeing off in the middle of the pack Sunday. This is where you want to be."

"Moving day" featured its typical dose of scoreboard jostling on a calm day with soft conditions ripe for scoring. The field's average of 69.57 set a PGA Championship record.

"Seems like 4- or 5-under is even par," Adam Scott said after his 5-under 66.

At one point, five golfers were tied atop the leaderboard. Golfers obviously play the course, not each other, in stroke play. But it seemed fitting that mere moments after Wiesberger lasered ridiculous approaches to kick-in birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 to take the lead briefly at 11-under, McIlroy, playing behind him, answered with back-to-back birdies of his own to regain it.

After a solid up-and-down par from the bunker on the par-3 14th, McIlroy rolled in a 20-footer for birdie on No. 15.

"That was a big momentum putt," McIlroy said.

He followed with a 340-yard drive and 9-iron to 2 feet on the 505-yard, par-4 16th for another birdie. In all, McIlroy one-putted nine of his last 12 holes.

"I knew Phil was making a run. I knew Rickie was making a run. Obviously, Bernd," McIlroy said. "I'm really confident right now and feel like no matter who is on that leaderboard, I have a pretty good chance in beating them."

This, of course, would be in contrast to Wiesberger, who called Mickelson one of his "heroes in golf" and admitted to his pairing with him Saturday was "a dream come true."

This marks only the second time Wiesberger, 28, has played on the weekend at a major championship. He tied for 64th at the 2013 British Open. He's a two-time winner on the European Tour.

"I didn't expect any of this really coming into this week," Wiesberger said.

Then again, anyone questioning whether he belongs need only watch replays of those approaches on Nos. 16 and 17. Wiesberger almost holed the latter from 168 yards and posted three straight birdies with another at No. 18.

"I know what I'm capable of doing," he said. "I know if I drive the ball well and don't get ahead of myself, I can play good golf. I was kind of surprised that I was really calm out on the first tee box. We had great crowds there with Phil. And hitting the first tee shot down the center obviously was a bit of a relief."

Talent is everywhere on the leaderboard. Fowler, the only golfer with top-five finishes at each major this year, almost eagled the par-5 18th but settled for birdie and two strokes back.

"It's going to be a fun walk," Fowler said of Sunday's final round.

For the record, Wiesberger said "the r is more like a silent a" in his first name. Rory, of late, mostly has been pronounced "champion."

Twitter @kcjhoop

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