Gary Woodland holds off Rory McIlroy for Tournament of Champions lead

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Gary Woodland holds off Rory McIlroy for Tournament of Champions lead

PGA Tour

Gary Woodland holds off Rory McIlroy for Tournament of Champions lead

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KAPALUA, Hawaii – Gary Woodland has a three-shot lead entering the final round of the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua’s Plantation Course, and he has a lot of time to think about it.

Woodland finished up around 3 p.m. HST (8 p.m. Eastern) ahead of Sunday’s final round, where he’s paired with Rory McIlroy and chasing his fourth PGA Tour win at age 34.

If he’s at all anxious about trying to punch his return ticket to Maui and the lengthy wait Saturday night, it didn’t show.

“I’ll get back and watch a little bit of football,” Woodland said. “It’s pretty easy to rest after walking this golf course every day. You don’t have to worry about that here.”

Woodland shot 5-under 68 while making the toughest walk on Tour in Round 3. His three-shot lead to start the day disappeared as he made his way around the sloping terrain, but Woodland held tough after Rory McIlroy caught up to him with a birdie at the par-4 14th for a share of the lead at 14 under.

McIlroy misjudged a few approach shots and made pars the rest of the way while Woodland bounced back from a bogey at 12 with a 64-foot eagle putt at the par-5 15th.

He later picked up another shot with a 12-foot birdie putt at 18 while McIlroy was already in the media center for a post-round press conference. Woodland said he knew McIlroy was playing well but didn’t realize he’d taken a share of the lead at one point.

“I was just trying to get as many birdies as I can and hopefully I can out-birdie everybody,” Woodland said.

He was also playing with a heavy heart after getting word Saturday night that his grandma had died back home in Kansas.

“It’s been tough,” Woodland said. “You try to prepare for that but you never really can. So definitely have a little extra emotion with me, but we’ll get through it.”

He and McIlroy will tee off in the final pairing 5:40 p.m. ET time Sunday. Marc Leishman is alone in third and four shots back at 13 under while Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau are T-4 at 12 under.

McIlroy pounded it off the tee with precision all afternoon and had five drives of 360-plus yards, but managed just one birdie over his final nine holes.

He thought he’d picked up his first bogey at the par-4 16th and started walking toward the hole after rolling a nine-foot par putt. He was surprised when the ball trickled into the cup.

“Just walking ’em in,” he said sarcastically as he moved toward the 17th tee box.

McIlroy is in Maui this week thanks to his Arnold Palmer Invitational win at Bay Hill last spring, the lone victory in a season filled with close calls. Runner-up finishes at the Dubai Desert Classic, BMW PGA Championship and British Open indicated the four-time major winner was getting closer after a winless and injury-plagued 2016-17 season, but toward the end he was getting tired of finishing second.

“I don’t enter tournaments just to show up. I enter them to try to come and win,” McIlroy said. “I worked pretty hard over the last few weeks trying to get ready for this event and get ready for the start of the year. So, yeah, it’s nice that everything’s going to plan. Another final group is great. Especially coming off the back of not being able to play as well as I would have liked in final groups last year.”

McIlroy hoped all those weekends in contention would pay off down the road, and while he seems such a haggard veteran, he’s still five months shy of his 30th birthday.

Sunday gives him a chance to try flip the narrative and get back to winning big in 2019 after a year of close calls.

“It’s a great opportunity now to see if I’ve learned anything from that and put it into play tomorrow.”

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