Rickie Fowler holds lead over Rory McIlroy in Las Vegas, hopes CJ Cup title is at end of his 'long road'

Rickie Fowler's drive at the 12th hole is on the green. He birdies the hole to win the CJ Cup lead. (0:29).
LAS VEGAS -- Rickie FOWLER returned to the spotlight Saturday in Las Vegas' foothills with his best round for three years. He shot a 9-under-63, which gave him a two-shot advantage over Rory McIlroy as he entered the final round at Summit's CJ Cup.

Fowler hasn’t had a chance like this since the 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open victory. It doesn’t look easy at The Summit Club, with all its low scores.

McIlroy began the final round nine shots behind the leader, then made five consecutive birdies on the front nine. He then closed with a 7 iron into 20 feet for an eagle on par-5 hole 18.

Fowler has risen to No. Fowler, who is ranked No. 128 in the world rankings, birdied three of his five last holes and was 21-under 195.

Fowler stated, "I haven’t been there a lot over the past couple of years so it’s nice to get back in that place." It's been a long process. It has been a long journey, with many difficult times. We are not finished."

Nine players were within five shots of the lead.

Keith Mitchell began the third round with an impressive 5-shot lead. He made two birdies in the first round, chipping in from behind green on the par-3 2nd and hitting a 3-wood into light breeze on the par-5 3rd.

It took only two bad swings for him to lose his advantage. No. 8 was his number. 8 and added a three-putt to make double bogey. Mitchell returned to the desert on No. 9 and made another double-bogey.

Mitchell spent the rest the day chasing and, in some cases trying to not lose any more ground. For a 73, Mitchell holed a 30-foot birdie shot on the last hole. He was four shots behind.

His struggles were not unique. Jordan Spieth was in the last group. He figured that being 5 back would give him the ability to keep his foot on gas. Spieth apparently forgot to turn the car on. Spieth didn't make birdie on the 15th hole, so he had to settle for a 72. He was 8 shots behind.

Average score for the week was 68.5

McIlroy thought more about his game and how much ground he needed to cover, but this changed when the putts began to fall.

He said, "I think that on a course such as this you're likely to have stretches when you're going be playing good golf and hitting good shots, and maybe not hole the putts." Yesterday, I played eight holes in even par and made eight pars. Today, I played nine holes at 6 under. It made me feel better.

It was easy to feel at ease playing with Abraham Ancer, who shot a 63 but was 3 shots behind Adam Scott (67), and Robert Streb (65)

After they were done, McIlroy's and Ancer's caddies looked at their scores on their phones. They quickly realized that McIlroy had a better-ball score than Ancer of 59.

"We were 9 back, do you know?" Ancer stated. We just know we need to make lots of birdies. "Hey, just hit that green, and see one putt roll into the hole. Then, I thought, "Hey, just hit that green. It was great to see everyone playing well. Rory was making some great putts and the hole is getting bigger.

Fowler performed most of his work from the tee to the green. To take the lead, Fowler shot an 18-foot birdie on the par-3 16th. He also had another birdie from the same range on the 8th hole. He kept trying to make it work.

Fowler was able to get up and down for birdies on the front nine par-5s. Fowler had three birdies by two on the back nine, the two par-5s as well as a drive to 35ft on the par-4 12th.

He enjoyed the simple, stress-free game of golf. Fowler was unable to qualify for the FedEx Cup postseason his first time in his professional career. He needed a sponsor exemption for the CJ Cup for the second year in a row.

He now faces his greatest test, yet another step towards what he hopes to be a return of the elite. McIlroy, the winner of this year's tournament, will be next to him, as well as Ancer, who won his first PGA Tour title in Tennessee at the World Golf Championship.