KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – For a few moments, Rory McIlroy’s hopes of a big day at the PGA Championship were up a tree.
McIlroy’s tee shot on the par-4 third hole Saturday became lodged in a thick tree branch not far from the green, but after a brief and fruitless search for the ball, he was told by someone from a TV crew that it was actually sitting just above him.
Instead of having to tee off again because of a lost ball, McIlroy took a drop and a one-stroke penalty – and got up and down for par.
He ended up with five birdies in nine holes, taking a share of the lead before the third round was halted because of rain – but it was that bizarre par that had everyone at Kiawah Island talking.
“I think that’s the first time a ball has ever got stuck up a tree on me,” McIlroy said. “Hopefully, it doesn’t happen again.”
Not since Sergio Garcia went toe-to-toe with an oak at Medinah in 1999 has a tree become this big a part of PGA Championship proceedings.
After two straight birdies to start the round, McIlroy was poised to make an early run when he came to No. 3, which had been shortened 74 yards Saturday to an enticing 317.
McIlroy’s drive didn’t reach the green, however. Instead, it was somehow caught in what looked like a rotted-out section of a branch, on a tree in the middle of the fairway that guards the front of the green.
“I knew the line of the ball was right on the tree,” McIlroy said. “So, you know, I was just like, ‘Well, if it hit the tree, I’m sure it’s just somewhere around here in these long grass things or in the wood chip or whatever.’ ”
McIlroy looked around near the base of the tree and found nothing. If the ball was lost, he would be penalized a stroke — and have to return to the tee box to hit again. But the ball wasn’t lost.
“We’d been looking for it for maybe about three minutes, and then one of the guys that was working for the TV came over and said, ‘You know, it’s actually stuck in the tree,’” McIlroy said.
Faced with one of the more unplayable lies of his career, McIlroy took a penalty stroke and a drop, reached the green with his next shot and calmly made a 6-foot putt to save par.
Maybe Padraig Harrington’s still got a shot at the European Ryder Cup team.
Harrington, put on notice by captain Jose Maria Olazabal that he needed something special to happen to be selected to Europe’s team, was resigned to missing next month’s matches when he followed an opening-round 70 with a 76 on Friday at the PGA Championship.
But Harrington rebounded in the third round with a 69, moving five shots off the lead in the rain-suspended major.
“Who knows what’s going to happen now,” Harrington said.
There probably won’t be a double-major winner this season. Masters champion Bubba Watson and British Open champion Ernie Els could not take advantage of The Ocean Course’s milder conditions Saturday.
Watson started eight shots behind the leaders and didn’t make up much ground with his 70 that left him at 2-over for the tournament.
“Played good today,” Watson told his followers on Twitter when the round ended.
Els also hoped to make an early, third-round run but never got things going with only one birdie on each nine to end with a 73 and was 4-over par. “Into the wind,” Els had said, “it’s survival.”
U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson missed the cut.