NORTON, Mass. – Russell Henley doesn’t get into contention as much as he’d like, though he is tough to beat when he’s anywhere near the lead.
Rory McIlroy seems to be there all the time.
They were among a host of contenders Sunday at the Deutsche Bank Championship, setting up the second straight week in the FedEx Cup playoffs that the final round resembles more like a free-for-all.
The difference at the TPC Boston is the presence of McIlroy so high on the leaderboard.
Henley ran off five birdies in a seven-hole stretch around the turn on his way to a 6-under 65, giving him a one-shot lead over Billy Horschel going into a Labor Day finish loaded with possibilities.
Ten players were separated by four shots. Six of them already have won on the PGA Tour this season.
And one of them – McIlroy – has won the biggest events.
McIlroy was dialed in with his swing and shot a 7-under 64 to get within two shots of the lead. He played with Chris Kirk, who also shot a 64 with birdies on his last two holes – a chip-in for birdie on a shot that would have gone 10 feet by the hole had it not banged into the pin, and an eagle putt that stopped an inch short on the 18th.
“I’ve been in this position quite a lot recently,” McIlroy said. “So I know how it’s going to feel tomorrow.”
Henley was at 12-under 201. He will play in the final group with Horschel, who birdied his last three holes for a 67.
Henley can look as good as anyone, and then he can disappear. He won the Sony Open last year in his first PGA Tour event as a rookie last year, and never seriously contended again.
He won the Honda Classic in March in a four-man playoff that included McIlroy, and since then has missed eight cuts and has only two finishes in the top 20.
“I think I’m just still figuring it all out,” Henley said. “I feel like I’ve been working really hard on my ball-striking to keep the ball more in front of me. I always feel pretty good with my putter. The other thing I have to work on is my attitude, and not be so hard on myself.”
Jason Day, who started Sunday tied with Ryan Palmer, reached 12 under with a short birdie putt on the 13th hole. But he missed a short par putt on the 14th and hooked his tee shot into high grass and had to pitch out, leading to another bogey on the 15th. Day also failed to birdie the par-5 18th and shot 69.
Palmer took bogey on two of the par 5s and shot 71 to fall four shots behind.
McIlroy won the British Open, a World Golf Championship and the PGA Championship to assert himself at No. 1 in the world. He is coming off a pedestrian week at The Barclays – at least by his standards – where he started with a 74 and could never catch up.
So a round like 64 didn’t surprise him.
“It feels normal,” McIlroy said. “It feels like it’s what I’m supposed to do. It’s my job to go out there and shoot good scores. I’m not getting too excited about it. I’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow if I want to win this tournament.”
Henley is one round away at securing his spot in the Tour Championship, and perhaps giving U.S. captain Tom Watson one more person to consider for a Ryder Cup picks. But that one round seems far away considering the leaderboard, especially with McIlroy.
“He’s obviously a tough guy to beat,” Henley said. “But like I said, there’s a lot of tough guys to beat. Rory has had a heck of a run and I’m sure he’ll continue that.”
Horschel is at No. 82 in the FedEx Cup and came to the Deutsche Bank hopeful of moving into the top 70 to advance to the BMW Championship next week. Now he’s in the final group and adjusting his goals. He emerged late with a tap-in birdie at the 16th, a tough 12-footer on the 17th and a wedge to 5 feet on the final hole.
Webb Simpson, among those under Ryder Cup consideration, overcame a double bogey to post a 68 and was three shots behind. Keegan Bradley also is in the hunt for one of the three captain’s picks. He made only two birdies on a soft day for scoring and had a 69, leaving him four shots behind.
DIVOTS: Geoff Ogilvy shot 29 on the back for a 65 and was tied for 11th. He would need somewhere around eighth place to advance to the next FedEx Cup playoff event. One week ago, Ogilvy figured he was done for the year until Troy Merritt made bogey on the final hole at The Barclays. Ogilvy was the last player to qualify for the Deutsche Bank Championship. ... Patrick Reed started the third round two shots out of the lead. He made four double bogeys on the back nine for an 82 and was among seven players who missed the 54-hole cut. That group included Matt Every, who shot an 86. ... Phil Mickelson had a 72 and remains on the bubble for advancing next week to Cherry Hills, where he won the 1990 U.S. Amateur.