A welcome Rickie Fowler sighting at the top, Rory’s comin’ and an unfortunate turn for the 36-hole leader

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Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy are set for a Sunday duel in the desert. Adam Scott is lurking. Hell, even Ian Poulter is (sorta) in the mix. The CJ Cup at The Summit Club is turning into quite the throwback event.

Those guys are the main event, of course, but with scores as low as they’ve been all week—the 54-hole lead is 21(!) under par—this is still anybody’s tournament. There are 16 players within seven shots of the lead, and with the wind forecasted to change in the afternoon, it wouldn’t be shocking to see someone go crazy low early on and be part of the conversation.

It’s been a trying couple of years for Fowler, who’s been upfront about his struggles on the course. He last won in February of 2019, and has since fallen from No. 8 to No. 128 in the World Ranking entering this week.

Perhaps lifted by his alma mater’s comeback win over Texas on the gridiron earlier Saturday afternoon, Fowler found his groove in the desert, firing a fine vintage bogey-free 63 to take a two-shot lead into the final round. It’s his first 54-hole lead in more than two years.

Fowler doesn’t need a win to “add to his legacy,” whatever that might be at this point, but another W could spark a bit of a career renaissance for the 32-year-old, who should still have many years of competitive golf ahead of him. No cheering in the press box, but as he is still one of the most recognizable figures in the game, that would objectively be good for the game of golf.

Here are three more takeaways from Day 3 at the CJ Cup.

Rory McIlroy hasn’t struggled in nearly the way Fowler has, and the standard for the four-time major champion is a bit different. But the Northern Irishman hasn’t quite been the same for some time now. He won four times in 2019, but other than his victory at Quail Hollow in May, the Rory of old was rarely seen last year.

“Pure Rory” showed up on Saturday at The Summit Club. McIlroy led the field in strokes gained/off the tee, strokes gained/putting and scrambling and was third in strokes gained/tee-to-green. He also leads the field in the unofficial category “making this look impossibly easy.” Not that anything ever looks that difficult during a 10-under 62, but it looks even more effortless when McIlroy is swinging the club.

He was candid about his poor performance at the Ryder Cup late last month, but has obviously recovered well after some time away from the game. A win this week wouldn’t come close to a consolation prize, but in a separate category, would be a strong way to move into the fall season.

The tequilia should be flowing in Vegas again tonight. A Saturday 63 was good enough to rocket Abraham Ancer up the leader board and into the final group on Sunday.

That’s all well and good, but Ancer has to be a little upset with his performance on the par-5 14th. On Friday, Honest Abe slayed golf’s biggest bird with a 250-yard hole-out for albatross. Anything less on Saturday would be disappointing. Expected, but disappointing. So during the third round, the world got to see the most disappointing great-shot-to-six-feet-converted-for-eagle of all time.

That eagle propelled Ancer to a back-nine 31 (with a bogey) and gives him a shot at PGA Tour win No. 2.

Ever been riding a heater at the blackjack table in, oh, let’s say, Las Vegas, gotten a little too comfortable and gone from up money to wondering what the hell is going on in just a few hands? Well, if you haven’t, lucky you. If you have, you recognize what happened to Keith Mitchell on the eighth and ninth holes all too well Saturday afternoon. Wayward drives into the desert forced punch outs that could only reach the rough on both holes. On eight, Mitchell three-putted for double, while nine fell apart with a short-sided approach shot and a not-so-great chip.

After starting the day with a five-stroke lead and threatening to run away and hide, Mitchell trailed by one at the turn. His once-two-under-thru-seven round ballooned into a two-over-at-the-turn nightmare. And it didn’t get much better on the back nine. On a day where a mid-60s number was the standard at the top, his 73 felt like more.

As the great Katy Perry once said, “That’s what you get for waking up in Vegas.”

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