Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy set for final round duel in THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT

The two 32-year-olds have endured difficult years, but now have the chance to add another trophy to their cabinet.

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It's safe to say that 2021 has not gone like Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy might have hoped on the golf course.

The two 32-year-olds have laboured this calendar year, struggling to revive memories of the consistent quality they produced throughout their 20s.

In fact, Fowler arrived in Las Vegas this week having landed just one top 10 finish in 19 starts since New Year.

McIlroy has been better than that - seven top 10s in 21 appearances including a win at the Wells Fargo Championship - but the year has been defined by frustrations, swing changes, and Major Championship disappointment.

On the one hand, the fact that they have burst into life when the important prizes have been handed out will be viewed by the sceptics with a wry shake of the head.

On the other, the two men themselves will probably prefer to take all the encouragement they can take and what we know is that in the third round of THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT the pair thrashed the Tom Fazio designed Vegas track.

Fowler carded a 9-under-par 63 to grab the 54 hole lead on 21-under 195, McIlroy answered with a 10-under 62 to sit two blows back heading into Sunday.

Behind them, Abraham AncerAdam Scott and the first round pace-setter Robert Streb share third on 18-under.

"I've done everything I really wanted to do the first three days," Fowler said.

"It's nice to be executing the way we are. I say 'we' because it's a two-man show out there, (my caddie) Joe and myself, but ultimately I'm the one pulling the trigger.

"I haven't been in this position a whole lot in the last couple years, so it was great to feel the emotions again on the back nine and get the lead.

"Dealing with that again, making sure that I was going through the right process, committing to what I was ultimately trying to do. It was great to see that I was still executing and hitting the shots that I wanted to.

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"Some guys don't look at leaderboards. I've always found it fun because you're chasing guys and then you get there and then it obviously becomes almost sometimes a different feeling.

"I just tried to make sure that I stayed aggressive."

He did that, making birdie at four of his last seven holes to open up that narrow advantage.

McIlroy vaulted clear of the chasers with an eagle-3 at the par-5 18th and was thrilled by his performance.

"A exciting day for me," he said. "I'm working on a few things in my game not necessarily swing related, but more mental stuff, routine, visualization, things that I've done pretty well this week for three days.

"It's exciting to try those things when you're under a little more pressure and you're trying to win a golf tournament. I'm excited to see how tomorrow goes."

Let's take a closer look at the top two and the chasers.

Rickie Fowler - leading on 21-under

His 54 hole total is a tournament record low and he's only gone lower through the first three rounds once in his career (when winning his last title, the 2019 WM Phoenix Open).

He hit all 18 greens in regulation on Saturday (just a third time in his career) and drained nine birdies (a career best).

He has good vibes at the course, owning a condo near-by (albeit he is in the process of selling it) and he has played the Summit Club on multiple occasions in the past.

He's also a fan of Fazio designs with three top four finishes from his previous five starts on them. He's also a past-winner at Quail Hollow, a Fazio re-design.

And good vibes up against McIlroy? How about this ...

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He's had eight solo 54 hole leads in his career and has converted the win four times. He has, however, only gone sub-70 twice in his eight instances. Obviously, it was enough half the time, but he'll need to go lower this time.

He said of his performance this week: "I'm not surprised, this has been coming. But, we're not done yet. Golf tournaments are 72 holes and we've got 18 more of them.

"It's definitely going to be a challenge tomorrow. It's a tight leaderboard and this is a golf course where you drive it well, which I've been doing this week, you can score. But as soon as you get a bit offline off the tee, it becomes a whole different golf course."

Rory McIlroy - solo second on 19-under

In making six birdies in seven holes on the front nine Saturday he tied his career best front nine score.

He leads the field for Strokes Gained: Putting and that is rare for him. The only time he completed a tournament in that fashion was at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational, which he won.

Like Fowler, he's had fun on Fazio designs in the past. He's been fourth at both Caves Valley and Conway Farms, and is a three-time winner, most recently this year, at Quail Hollow.

He's entered a final round in second on the leaderboard 25 times in his career and has claimed the win seven times. Much more encouragingly, he's done so three times in the last four instances.

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He said of the test: "Every hole is a birdie chance, so you just try to put it in play, give yourself a putt at it on the green and go from there.

"The big thing is I've played the last two days from the short stuff and I haven't made any bogeys. That's huge. I said to Harry yesterday that I can't remember the last time I played a round of golf without a bogey and now I've played two rounds in a row, so that's nice to see."

The chasers

Of the trio in a tie for third Ancer has needed just five blows to play the par-5 14th hole in the last two rounds, Scott played college golf at the University of Las Vegas, and Streb has been boom or bust all week (61-72-65).

Tyrrell Hatton, currently tied sixth with the halfway leader Keith Mitchell, is looking to go 3-for-3 at landing top three finishes on Fazio original designs.


We have no stats on the course, but the last 10 Fazio designs and re-designs to host the PGA Tour? The winner was always tied fourth or better at this stage (and eight of them were no more than two blows back).

It looks like a golden opportunity for Rory McIlroy to claim his 29th worldwide win.

READ MORE: Matthew Fitzpatrick fuelled by Foster insight as he chases Laurie Canter in the Andalucia Masters

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