Wells Fargo Championship final round preview: Rory McIlroy in the top 10 but trails leader by six

The Northern Irishman moved 38 spots up the leaderboard on moving day, but leader Keegan Bradley is in a strong position at TPC Potomac.

A cursory glance at the leaderboard might suggest that Rory McIlroy has a live opportunity to win a fourth Wells Fargo Championship in today's final round at TPC Potomac.

He carded a third round 68, one of only four sub-70 totals for the day (and the second-best of them), to lie tied sixth on 2-under 208.

But the former World No. 1 is wary.

He's six shots adrift of the leader Keegan Bradley, four back of second placed Max Homa and the course (and conditions) are far from straightforward.

"You can't really chase much around here because it's a tough golf course," he admitted. "Six shots is still a long way back. You know, if you looked at the data, I'm sure my percentage of winning wouldn't be too high at this point."

Nor is he helped by the knowledge that he has struggled to impose himself on the front nine this week.

"It's been the tougher nine for me this week," he explained. "I was even-par on it Thursday, I was 3-over on it yesterday and then I was even-par on it today."

There's no doubt that he likes to win from the top of the leaderboard: 23 of his 27 of his main tour strokeplay came when he was tied third or better with 18 holes to play.

But he does have experience of making up a big final round deficit: he was seven blows back when winning the 2014 BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and six in arrears when claiming the 2016 Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston.

Bradley, who was playing his 1000th round on the PGA Tour, carded the lowest score of the day (67) and his 8-under 54-hole total is the third highest score to par this season but the difficulty of the week is revealed by the fact that only Homa is within four blows of his tally - and only four players are within six.

"When the conditions get like this, I find a sense of calm just because I'm sort of worried about other things, keeping my clubs dry and my bag dry," Bradley explained. "It sort of keeps me in the present."

Homa followed 67-66 with a 71 to ensure his spot in the final group out on Sunday. He sits two clear of Anirban Lahiri and James Hahn who share third, and three ahead of Matt Fitzpatrick, alone in fifth.

McIlroy is one of seven players, including first round leader Matthew Wolff and local man Denny McCarthy, in a tie for sixth on 2-under.

TPC Potomac stats

The PGA Tour has ventured to the Maryland course just twice since 2006, but there is still plenty in the record books to ponder.

Of the last 12 PGA Tour winners on the track only three emerged from outside tied second or better after the 54-hole stage - and only two had been more than two blows back.

Justin Leonard was five back (tied fourth) when he won in 1997 and Kyle Stanley was four adrift (tied seventh) ahead of winning in 2017.

There has been one Champions Tour and two Korn Ferry Tour events at the course recently. Two of those were won by 54-hole leaders, the third saw David Lingmerth win from four back when in tied eighth.

If Rory McIlroy - and the other half dozen on 2-under - are to win they must do something none of the last 15 course winners has achieved and overcome a six shot deficit.

This is his fourth career 54-hole lead and he'll be desperate not to finish second again - it's happened in all three previous cases (because he's yet to break 70 in round four having slept on a third round lead).

Keegan Bradley - leading on 8-under

He's a four-time PGA Tour winner, winning the 2011 PGA Championship from one shot back, but the other three came from three or four shots adrift.

He's arrived in great form, with three top 12 finishes from his last four strokeplay starts, plus tied fourth last time out in the New Orleans pairs event.

"Today and yesterday were just really good ball-striking and really good putting," he said. "It's rare that we match those up and I've matched that up these last two days. If I can just keep that going a little bit, I'll like my chances."

Max Homa - solo second on 6-under

The three-time PGA Tour winner might be in his ideal third round position because two of those victories came from two shots back - and the first of his two Korn Ferry Tour wins came from the same spot.

Moreover, those three winning instances are his only experience of being two shots back of a lead so he's currently 100% (he's 0-for-4 from one back, however, and 1-for-2 with a lead).

He was a winner earlier this season at the Fortinet Championship but is looking for a first top five since then. He's also looking to join McIlroy as the only multiple winner of the event.

"I played really well," he said. "I knew today if you drove the ball well, you could at least keep it around par, and I drove it awesome.

"Winning helps confidence, it doesn't feel super foreign. But, in general, I've been leaning on how well I've been playing the last six, seven months. Game feels really good."

Anirban Lahiri and James Hahn - tied third on 4-under

Lahiri has finished top 15 in three of his last four starts, including a bold bid to win THE PLAYERS Championship. He's a seven-time winner on the Asian Tour (two of them co-sanctioned on the DP World Tour) but hasn't tasted main tour success since 2015.

Hahn has made just one top five - and only two top 10s - since October 2020. In 2022 alone he is 2-for-9 at making the cut and is yet to land a top 60. He's in thin air.

READ MORE: Revealed: The weakness that has stopped Rory McIlroy winning a Major since 2014

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