ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Standing on one of the Old Course’s 112 bunkers on Saturday, Rory McIlroy was about to be where he wanted to be: atop the British Open leaderboard.
His drive on the 10th hole was in trouble, but not a deep one, he stopped in the middle of the sand trap that protects the front of the green.
McIlroy had room to swing free, and his second shot flew over the lip of the bunker, tripled and then rolled a few more feet to the cup for eagle.
The 27-yard masterstroke gave McIlroy a one-shot lead over fellow player Victor Hovland.
“It was a skill to get closer,” McIlroy said. But getting in the hole was luck. You need a bit of luck every now and then, especially in these big tournaments. And that was a nice bonus. “
It’s a pleasant surprise that can make the difference between winning or losing a major championship, and Hovland got his bonus on Friday when he holed out from 139 yards for eagle on the par-4 15th.
But 24-year-old Norwegian Hovland McIlroy, who excelled at Oklahoma State before turning pro in 2019, didn’t let McIlroy enjoy the lead alone for long. He quickly put McIlroy in with a birdie at the 10th to put them both at 15 under and then fall on the back nine of one of major golf’s most historic courses.
Massilroy from Northern Ireland was certainly the crowd favourite, but Hovland, a dynamic presence, did not shrink from the challenge. With a round of 66 and a share of the lead at 16-under, they finished four strokes clear. Pursuit package Led by American Cameron Young and Australian Cameron Smith, who are both 12-under going into Sunday.
Of the top four men on the leaderboard, only McIlroy, 33, has won a major, but the last of his four victories came in 2014 when he won the British Open at Royal Liverpool.
Since then, he has had many frustrating Sundays.
“You’re not given anything, and I’ve got to go out there and earn it like I’ve earned everything in my career,” he said.
Other major championships are also in the region. Scottie Scheffler, who is American He won the Masters in April And he is ranked No. 1 in the world, 11 years under, tied with South Korea’s Kim Si-woo. Dustin Johnson, a two-time major winner from the United States, recently jumped in Broken LIV Golf SeriesAfter a mood swing on Saturday, he is alone at 10-under 71.
Matt Fitzpatrick, English Who won this year’s US Open?2013 Masters champion Adam Scott and Tommy Fleetwood are at 9-under.
But if McIlroy and Hovland continue to thrive under pressure like they did Saturday, the pack may not allow much of a chance to close the gap.
“There are so many possibilities,” Hovland said. “You can play well in these situations and these pin placements and shoot from position, and then it brings a lot of other guys as well.”
The weather forecast for Sunday will be relatively good, with moderate winds and temperatures in the mid-70s. That could mean even more than the low scores at St Andrews Regulation in this 150th edition of The Open Championship.
Several players performed well on Saturday, including Shane Lowry, who came in at 9 and 10 for the Eagles. And Kevin Kisner, who barely made the cut but had the best round of the day: a 7-under-par 65 that moved him into a tie for 13th place.
“It’s a fun place to drive around and play golf, and when the edges come in, it makes it even more fun,” Kizner said.
That seems like the conclusion of a good day on many golf courses, but success on the Old Course continues to hold a special cachet even when the world’s best golfers do it.
McIlroy knows very well – perhaps too well – what a win on Sunday means to him and his crowd.
“I love having so much support,” he said. But at the same time tomorrow I just have to stay in my own little world and play good golf and hopefully that will be enough.
Getting rid of Hovland in the third round wasn’t enough. Both started the day at 10 under and in the perfect group, ahead of second-round leader Smith and first-round leader Young.
Hovland made four straight birdies, starting with a 38-foot birdie putt on the 3rd and a 42-foot birdie putt on the 4th. But McIlroy made birdies of his own on Nos. 5, 6 and 9 for eagle. Another birdie on No. 10 and No. 15 from the sand gave him back the straight lead.
But as Hovland bogeyed him on the 17th, McIlroy couldn’t hold it when he had to settle for bogey.
As they began their unforgettable journey at age 18, they ended up tied up and drifting.
“We talked to each other and went really well the last few holes,” McIlroy said.
This was fair competition, but no brutal conflict. There were fist bumps and smiles and lots of talking throughout most of the rounds.
“He talked about a whole lot,” McIlroy said. “He talked about shoes. He talked about what he’s done in the last two weeks. He’s back in Norway. He’s going back to Norway after this. Just keep it nice and loose.
McIlroy may be nine years older, but he and Hovland have formed a good relationship after playing (and losing) on the same Ryder Cup team last year. But even if they are back together on Sunday, they are not teammates.
McIlroy is trying to end an eight-year drought by winning at the last Open. Hovland is trying to become the first Norwegian to win a major.
“Where I grew up is pretty crazy,” Hovland said. “I have to pinch myself, but that doesn’t mean I’ll stay tomorrow.