GOLF: Rory McIlroy stays in the hunt at WGC-Bridgestone Invitaional

Rory McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, tees off on the third hole during the third round
Rory McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, tees off on the third hole during the third round

Two-time major winner Zach Johnson gave playing partner Rory McIlroy a lesson in scoring to claim a share of the lead heading into the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron.

Johnson was often 50 yards behind McIlroy off the tee at Firestone Country Club, but carded a 65 to the Northern Irishman’s 68 to finish nine under par alongside Belgium’s Thomas Pieters.

Australia’s Scott Hend is a shot off the lead after a superb 63, with world number three Hideki Matsuyama a stroke further back and McIlroy on six under with American Charley Hoffman and Canada’s Adam Hadwin.

“It could have been a lot better,” McIlroy said after a round containing four birdies and two bogeys.

“I put myself in good positions out there and had some great chances coming in the last six holes and didn’t convert any of them.

“I could have been a few closer to the lead but still feel with the way I’m playing I have a good shot going into tomorrow.”

McIlroy who won the event in 2014 but was unable to defend his title the following year due to injury, is playing his first event since splitting from long-time caddie JP Fitzgerald, with his best man Harry Diamond on the bag.

“I feel great about my game,” the 28-year-old added. “My driving’s good, my iron play has improved each and every day.

“It’s just a matter of doing it all over again tomorrow, seeing a few more putts drop and putting a bit of pressure on the leaders and we’ll see what happens.”

Johnson, who won the Masters in 2007 and the 2015 Open Championship at St Andrews, carded eight birdies and three bogeys in his 65 to briefly take the outright lead, until Pieters also birdied the last.

“If you hit the fairway here you’ve got a chance,” Johnson said. “The greens are receptive so you can be aggressive when you hit the fairways and I hit a lot of fairways.

“I hit a lot of good drives out there and it was humbling, but it always is with Rory and I’m used to it. I’ve played with him countless times, it’s nothing out of the ordinary.”