By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — The Memorial has another player who appears to be running away with the tournament. Billy Horschel at least gets a chance to finish the job.
One year after Jon Rahm built a six-shot lead — only to be forced to withdraw after the third round because of a positive COVID-19 test — Horschel delivered a gem at Muirfield Village on Saturday with a 7-under 65 for a five-shot lead.
Not only did Horschel make seven birdies, he has gone 44 consecutive holes without a bogey on a course where the greens have been getting increasingly firm under more sunshine that this tournament is used to seeing.
Horschel chipped in for birdie on his opening hole. Everything else was simply solid, with only one other birdie putt outside the 10-foot range.
He was at 13-under 203, five shots clear of Aaron Wise (69) and Cameron Smith (72). Horschel cared more about how he was playing — very well — than the size of his lead.
“I just go to the tee understanding I’m leading the tournament. I know I’ve got however many shots I have ahead,” he said. “I’m not going to be protective, I’m not going to be overly aggressive. I’m going to play the way I have the last three days. We’re going to hit the golf shots that are required, and I know if we do that it’s going to give me the best chance to be victorious come tomorrow.”
He will be going for his sixth individual title and seventh PGA Tour victory.
Daniel Berger had a 67 and six shots behind along with Jhonattan Vegas and former British Open champion Francesco Molinari, who hasn’t had a top-five finish since the 2019 Masters.
“I’m just happy to be up there,” Molinari said. “Billy is a really good player, but in golf you never know. On a course like this, it’s showing today that if you hit the fairways you get plenty of chances and you can shoot 6-, 7-under par. If you start missing fairways it’s a whole different challenge. I think there’s going to be an outside chance, but it’s just nice to be kind of up there.”
Smith started with a one-shot lead and ran into trouble immediately, with bogeys from the bunker on the first two holes. He played alongside Denny McCarthy, who on three occasions in the first hour was putting for birdie from closer than where Smith was putting for par.
It was a struggle for Smith to get back to even for the day, but by then, Horschel was starting to pull away from everybody.
He took the lead with a wedge to 3 feet for birdie on the par-5 seventh, and then stuffed his tee shot to a front pin within 6 feet on the par-3 eighth. He made birdie on all the par 5s. The four times he missed the green, he chipped in on No. 1 for birdie and made tough saves from bunkers and a delicate pitch behind the 12th green that ran quickly away from him.
Smith saved himself one shot at the end. The greens are firm enough that anything in the rough makes it hard to stop near the hole. Smith’s shot from deep grass right of the 18th fairway bounded to the back of the green with a front pin. The Aussie went with a flop shop that trickled near the hole and settled 3 feet away for par.
Rory McIlroy started the third round just three shots out of the lead, but as everyone else around him was piling up birdies, McIlroy was stuck on pars. He didn’t make his first birdie until the 11th hole and shot 73 to fall four shots behind.
Defending champion Patrick Cantlay began his round by pulling his tee shot into a stream and making double bogey. He atoned for that with a pair of eagles, finished with three straight par putts from outside 8 feet and shot 69. He was seven beind.
That would appear to be too far back — the largest comeback at the Memorial is five shots, most recently 15 years ago by K.J. Choi. Then again, players have rallied from seven shots behind to win the last two weeks by Sam Burns at Colonial and by Justin Thomas at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s any different,” Wise said. “Anything is possible.”
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