Wednesday 7 December 2016

Rory McIlroy's challenge fades in Shanghai

Phil Casey

Published 29/10/2016 | 10:50

Rory McIlroy has withdrawn from the Turkish Open
Rory McIlroy has withdrawn from the Turkish Open

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama will take a three-shot lead over defending champion Russell Knox into the final round of the WGC-HSBC Champions as Rory McIlroy's title challenge faded in Shanghai.

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Matsuyama, who is a career-high 10th in the world after winning the Japan Open a fortnight ago and finishing second in Malaysia last week, carded a bogey-free 68 on Saturday to reach 17 under par at Sheshan International.

That was enough to maintain his overnight lead as Knox also returned a 68 in pursuit of becoming only the second player after Tiger Woods to retain a World Golf Championships title.

American Daniel Berger was a shot behind Knox after a third round of 67, with Francesco Molinari and Bill Haas another stroke adrift on 12 under.

McIlroy was within four of the lead when he produced a brilliant recovery shot on the par-five eighth to set up his third birdie of the day, but the world number three bogeyed the 11th, 12th and 15th to slip down the leaderboard.

Birdies on the 16th and 18th repaired some of the damage and gave McIlroy a round of 70, but at nine under par he was eight shots off the lead.

Knox, who was inches away from a hole-in-one on the fourth, was two behind Matsuyama when he picked up another shot on the 13th, only to find water with his approach to the par-five 14th as Matsuyama hit the green in two.

A two or three-shot swing looked certain and Matsuyama duly two-putted from long range for birdie, but Knox holed from 25 feet for an unlikely par and birdied the 15th for good measure.

The Florida-based Scot was unable to find any more birdies on the closing stretch and Matsuyama two-putted the 18th for a closing birdie to extend his lead as he looks to become the first Japanese player to win a WGC event.

Race to Dubai leader Danny Willett has just two players below him on the leaderboard after a 75 left him 11 over par.

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