By Jeff Shain The Orlando Sentinel
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Call it a knothole-in-one.
Weathered, gnarled and lifeless, the skeletal tree at Kiawah Island’s third hole might have been a relic from Hurricane Hugo two decades ago. It also somehow captured Rory McIlroy’s golf ball, threatening to derail a promising start.
“I’m like, ‘How can it be stuck in this thing?’” McIlroy said. “There’s no branches, no leaves for it to be stuck in.”
McIlroy reclaimed his ball, backed up 20 yards or so and scrambled for a par, keeping the momentum going as he rose to share the PGA Championship lead with Vijay Singh before storms put the third round on hold Saturday.
“In a great position,” said McIlroy, who saw a two-shot lead dissipate one hole before play was halted. “That’s all I can really ask for.”
McIlroy had the lead alone until he bogeyed No.9, followed minutes later with Singh’s birdie at the par-5 seventh. That brought them together at 6-under par for the week, one shot ahead of the similarly surging Adam Scott.
Scott, whose four-bogey finish at the British Open handed the crown to Ernie Els, matched McIlroy’s front nine in 4-under 32. Carl Pettersson, who shared the two-round lead with Singh and Tiger Woods, was another shot back.
Woods, meantime, had some dark clouds of his own after three bogeys in a four-hole stretch dropped him five shots off the pace.
“I got off to a rough start and couldn’t get anything going,” Woods told a liaison. “I’ll come back (Sunday) morning and see what happens. There are a lot of holes left to play.”
Play was suspended at 4:50 p.m. EDT as ominous clouds began rolling in from over the Atlantic Ocean. Though it was more than an hour before rain fell, heavy showers flooded greens when the skies did open.
With lightning still in forecast for another hour, PGA of America officials opted to send everyone home for the day.
“We could see it coming,” said former U.S. Openchampion Graeme McDowell. “When we get in and start jumping on iPhones and looking at radars, it was fairly easy to see that there wasn’t going to be a lot of golf left.”
Play was scheduled to resume at 7:45 a.m., with the final round tentatively set for a 11:44 a.m. start with players grouped in threes.
“There is a chance of some lingering showers first thing in the morning,” said Kerry Haigh, the PGA of America’s competition chief. “But following that, our weather people tell us we can expect a very good day.”
It sets up for a marathon of as many as 29 holes for the final pairing of Woods and Singh; McIlroy and Scott have 27 left.
“I don’t think you can let it affect you,” McIlroy said. “I’m going into the final day of the final major of the season tied for the lead. You can’t ask for much more.”
Singh, who at 49 could become the oldest major champion in history, opened with a 12-foot birdie and parred his next five before his bookend at No.7.
For Woods, the storm delay couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. What had been solid ball-striking through the week suddenly veered left, plunking fans on consecutive shots at No.4 and missing badly at the par-3 fifth.
Two holes later, Woods cut the corner too much off the tee and wound up in an awkward lie in Kiawah’s sand. He also missed the green at No.8 before the horn sounded.
Saturday marked the second time this year Woods has stumbled after leading a major at the midway point. He shared the top spot at the U.S. Open with Jim Furyk and David Toms, but shot 75-73 on the weekend and tied for 21st.
The winner of 14 majors, in fact, has broken par just once in his past 12 weekend rounds at Grand Slam events.