Rory McIlroy may not have the same rivalry with Justin Rose as he does with Lee Westwood, but he will be trying to beat him just as hard this weekend.
The 22-year-old has to win the Honda Classic in Florida to go to world number one for the first time and he was one off the lead entering today’s third round.
Rose, keen to return to Europe’s Ryder Cup side in September having been overlooked two years ago, shared top spot with American Tom Gillis at halfway.
That was not as good a position for the 31-year-old Englishman as it promised to be at one stage, however.
After six birdies in his first 14 holes Rose was 10 under par and two clear, but while he played the remaining four in two over McIlroy had three birdies in his last five.
The US Open champion missed a chance to dethrone Luke Donald last week when he lost the final of the Accenture Match Play in Tucson to American Hunter Mahan.
Now, with Donald having a week off before returning for next week’s world championship in Miami, McIlroy knows he has another golden opportunity - especially with Westwood and Tiger Woods six shots behind him.
“I felt like I played another really solid round,” he said after adding a 67 to his opening 66.
“I had a couple of chances on the front nine and didn’t take them, so was trying to stay as patient as possible.
“The bogey on 14 with only a wedge in my hand was quite frustrating, but the finish was nice.
“I’ve just got to keep doing the same things and if I keep hitting the shots like I am and giving myself plenty of chances that’s all I need to focus on doing.”
Rose failed to qualify for the European side at Celtic Manor despite winning twice in the States that summer and, like Paul Casey, lost out in the battle for the three wild cards to Donald, Padraig Harrington and Edoardo Molinari.
“It hurt a bit and it’s a big priority this year,” he said. “It’s really important to me.”
Soon after qualifying started last autumn he won one of the FedEx Cup play-off events in the States and another victory on another tough course would send a real message to captain Jose Maria Olazabal.
He had a double bogey on his second hole on Thursday, but hit straight back with an eagle and has so far posted back-to-back 66s.
“I’ve not made a lot of mistakes,” he added. “Keeping them off the card really counts here.”
McIlroy finished the day joint third with American Dicky Pride, who birdied the same three holes as he did at the end.