McIlroy, Rahm in a three-way battle for the lead in the Caves Valley

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McIlroy, Rahm in a three-way battle for the lead in the Caves Valley

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) – Rory McIlroy found his energy levels to be low amid a busy schedule and stifling summer heat. A good night’s sleep and his lowest start in almost a year at the BMW Championship on Thursday seemed to help.

McIlroy punched a 10-foot eagle putt on the par-5 16th in Caves Valley on his way to an 8-under 64, giving him part of the lead with Jon Rahm and Sam Burns.

Three days after McIlroy heaved his 3-wood over the fence of his last hole at Liberty National, McIlroy used his new club – an old 3-wood he found in his garage – to take a 285-yard shot down the hill hitting up and over a bunker that made his eagle putt take part of the lead.

McIlroy hasn’t started on this low score since a 64 at the Tour Championship last year, and that’s where he’s looking to return. He’s No. 28 in the FedEx Cup, and only the top 30 in the BMW Championship make it to East Lake.

“I’ve already run through play-offs in which you are always in the top group. You’re either 1, 2 or 3 in the FedEx Cup and that can take its mental toll, ”he said. “I’m in a position where I have to play well just to play next week. There is an element of freewheeling. “

Rahm is rested and relentless as always.

The US Open champion and world number one had five birdies on top and held bogeys off his card for a 64. It was the 15th time in his last 17 rounds through Sunday at the PGA Championship he shot in the 1960s.

Rahm finished third in the FedEx Cup Playoffs opener last week at Liberty National, losing a two-shot lead over the second nine. That may have bothered him more in the past, other than being happy for Tony Finau and becoming a fan of Ted Lasso.

The brawny Spaniard prefers a goldfish.

“The happiest animal in the world is a goldfish. You know why? He has a 10-second memory, ”said Rahm, reciting a famous line from the Ted Lasso series. “Played great golf last week, just a couple of bad swings on the track and that’s the most important thing to remember.”

Burns also played without a bogey when he got his fourth score of 64 in his final eight rounds. While he’s prepped for the Tour Championship, a big week in the Caves Valley could make him a popular topic for one of six captain tips for the Ryder Cup.

It’s a tough position for multiple players trying to either grab the sixth and final automatic spot on the US team this week, or at least get the attention of Captain Steve Stricker. Burns is among those who try to just think about the task at hand, whatever that may be.

“Right now, my focus is on giving you the best possible answer, and after that, I’ll try to figure out what I want to eat and do it over and over,” said Burns.

What’s for lunch?

“I didn’t see the menu,” he said.

The players were partying in the Caves Valley, just as they were at Liberty National last week, and that was to be expected. The course was soft from the rain that Hurricane Henri dropped over the weekend, and players were allowed to lift their golf balls, clean them, and lay them on the short grass.

Eighteen players were 67 years of age or under, a group that included Sergio Garcia, 65, Patrick Cantlay, 66 and Finau, Xander Schauffele and Dustin Johnson, 67.

Is there something to stop the best in the world?

“No place with such wide fairways,” said Cantlay.

Finau won the Northern Trust in a playoff last week after he and Cameron Smith finished at 20 under 264. That seems to be it in Caves Valley under these conditions.

Last year in the BMW Championship at the Olympia Fields south of Chicago it was hot, dry and fast. Rahm won a playoff against Dustin Johnson with 4 under 276. Only three other players broke the par. That is the nature of outdoor sport and it depends on the weather.

Cantlay could not be stopped when he saw a 15-foot putt fall to par on the ninth hole. On his next seven holes, he tore off six birdies, all but two of 18 feet or longer.

“Hit it pretty average, chipped it pretty average, and done it all,” he said.

This recipe works everywhere.

The heat and humidity could drain anyone of energy, and McIlroy felt just as tired of his schedule.

He went from the British Open to Tokyo for the Olympics – the heat index exceeded 100 degrees almost every day – and then to the cooler climate of Memphis, Tennessee in early August. After a week off, he had to face up to three FedEx Cup playoffs in a row.

“I was super tired yesterday. But you sleep well and feel a little better the next day and you can go out and play well, ”said McIlroy.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed in any way without permission.

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