Headliners Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott set up potential blockbuster for CJ Cup final round

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LAS VEGAS – Keith Mitchell was cruising along with nary a hint of worry on a beautiful bright Saturday in the desert, making the game look easy as he was clobbering the defenseless course at The Summit through 43 holes and threatening to turn the CJ Cup into a one-man show.

And then he wasn’t.

When Mitchell began reeling in the third round, a bunch of players pounced, including headliners like four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler.

Now, instead of a blowout, it’s shaping up to be a barnburner on Sunday.

Mitchell was four shots clear of the field, sitting at 20 under, when he hit tee shots into the desert on the eighth and ninth holes, the errant drives leading to two consecutive double bogeys. He went to the eighth tee four shots up, went to the 10th tee one shot down.

In front of him, Fowler, McIlroy and Scott were leading a stampede to the top of the leaderboard and now there are 13 players within four shots of the lead.

Fowler, who started the day seven shots back, made five consecutive birdies on the front nine and shot 9-under-par 63 to grab the lead at 21 under. McIlroy, who also made five consecutive birdies on the front nine, started the day nine shots out of the lead but shot 62 to move into second at 19 under and has not posted a bogey the past two rounds. Scott, who was 8 under on his last seven holes in the second round, shot 67 to move into a tie for third at 18 under.

Joining Scott at 18 under were Abraham Ancer (63) and Robert Streb (65), who shot 61 to grab the first-round lead. At 17 under was Tyrrell Hatton (67).

Mitchell isn’t out of it despite being the lone player among the leaders with an over-par round. After shooting 62-64, he shot 73 and is at 17 under.

The last time Fowler led at the end of any round was in the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open, which he won for the most recent of his five PGA Tour titles, one being the 2015 Players Championship.

Fowler, who has fallen to No. 128 in the world and has just three top-10s in the last two years, has weathered the lean times with his optimistic ways. After missing the cut last week in the Shriners Children’s Open, he visited his old coach, Butch Harmon, and got a stamp of approval on the things Fowler is working on with his current coach, John Tillery.

“After the front nine, especially with how far back I started, I felt good on the 10th tee. I felt the juices flowing again,” Fowler said. “I haven’t been in this position much the past two years and it’s good to be back.

“But today’s over. Tomorrow is a new day. It’s been a long drive. I have a lot of work to do. Tomorrow is going to be a shootout.”

After his birdie blitz on the front nine, McIlroy ended his day by hitting a 7-iron from 208 yards to 20 feet and making the eagle putt on the 18th. The former world No. 1, who has fallen to 14th, won the Wells Fargo Championship earlier this year. A victory Sunday would be his 20th on the PGA Tour, earning him lifetime membership as soon as he plays 15 years.

“I think on a course like this you’re going to have stretches where you’re going to play good golf and hit good shots and maybe just not hole the putts,” McIlroy said. “I played an eight‑hole stretch yesterday in even par. It was nice to finish with a birdie last night.

“Then today I played a stretch of golf, played nine holes in 6 under and all of a sudden you feel a little better about yourself. The big thing is I’ve played the last two days keeping it in the short stuff and I haven’t made any bogeys. That’s huge.

“I said to Harry (Diamond, his caddie) yesterday, 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.”

And he can’t wait to see what transpires on Sunday.

“It’s an 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. But it’s exciting to try to do those things when you’re under a little more pressure tomorrow and you’re trying to win a golf tournament. So I’m excited to see how that goes.”

Scott’s last victory came in the 2020 Genesis Invitational. He thinks the winning score come Sunday will be 27 under.

“If it’s not Rickie getting up there, Rory’s right behind,” Scott said. “It’s really there for the taking. And you can make a couple eagles with four good swings of the club, it’s all there for the taking out here. So one of these top players is going to shoot a great round tomorrow.”

Ancer, who played with McIlroy, shot 63. In the past two days, he’s needed just five strokes to finish his play on the 553-yard, par-5 14th. On Friday, he made an albatross there, on Saturday an eagle.

“I hit probably the best drive of the day, and then the same iron I hit yesterday,” said Ancer, who won his first PGA Toru title at the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational earlier this year. “Tried to pick a good line because you’ve got to hit it over the desert a little bit. You have to flush it. If not, you can get in some trouble. Came out good, good line and we were just hoping to be somewhere close to the hole and ended up being around six feet.

“Happy to roll it in.”