ST. ANDREWS, Scotland —- Standing in considered one of the Old Course’s 112 bunkers on Saturday, Rory McIlroy was about to be right where he desired to be: atop the leaderboard of the British Open.
His drive on the tenth hole had landed in trouble but not deep trouble, coming to a stop in the course of the sand trap that defends the front of the green.
McIlroy had room to swing freely, and his second shot flew over the lip of the bunker, bounced 3 times after which rolled a number of more feet into the cup for eagle.
The 27-yard masterstroke gave McIlroy a one-shot lead over Viktor Hovland, his playing partner.
“It was skill to get it somewhere close,” McIlroy said. “However it was luck that it went in the outlet. You would like a little bit little bit of luck every every so often, especially in these big tournaments. And that was a pleasant bonus.”
It was the type of nice surprise that could make the difference between winning or losing a significant championship, and Hovland got a bonus of his own on Friday when he holed out from the rough from 139 yards for eagle on the par-4 fifteenth.
But Hovland, a 24-year-old Norwegian who excelled at Oklahoma State before turning skilled in 2019, didn’t let McIlroy benefit from the lead alone for long. He quickly reeled McIlroy in with a birdie on the tenth that put them each at 15-under par, they usually then dueled down the back nine of major golf’s most historic course.
McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, was definitely the group favorite, but Hovland, a dynamic presence, didn’t shrink from the challenge. They finished with matching rounds of 66 and a share of the lead at 16-under par that put them 4 shots clear of the chase pack led by the American Cameron Young and the Australian Cameron Smith, who’re each at 12-under heading into Sunday.
Of the highest 4 men on the leaderboard, only McIlroy, 33, is already a significant champion, but essentially the most recent of his 4 victories got here in 2014 when he won the British Open at Royal Liverpool.
Since then, he has experienced loads of disappointing Sundays.
“Nothing’s given to you, and I actually have to go on the market and earn it, similar to I’ve earned all the things else in my profession,” he said.
Other major champions are also in range. Scottie Scheffler, the American who won the Masters in April and is ranked No. 1 on this planet, is at 11-under, tied with Kim Si-woo of South Korea. Dustin Johnson, a two-time major winner from america who recently jumped to the breakaway LIV Golf series, is alone at 10-under after a mood-swinging 71 on Saturday.
Matt Fitzpatrick, the Englishman who won this 12 months’s U.S. Open, is at 9-under with Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, and Tommy Fleetwood.
But when McIlroy and Hovland proceed to glitter under pressure like they did on Saturday, they could not allow the pack much opportunity to shut the gap.
“There’s quite a lot of things that may occur,” Hovland said. “In these conditions and these pin placements, you’ll be able to play effective and shoot around even-par, after which that brings quite a lot of other guys in, as well.”
The weather is forecast to stay relatively benign on Sunday, with moderate winds and temperatures within the mid-70s. That would mean more of the low scores which have been the rule at St. Andrews on this a hundred and fiftieth edition of the Open Championship.
Several players placed on quite a show on Saturday, including Shane Lowry, who chipped in for consecutive eagles on 9 and 10; and Kevin Kisner, who barely made the cut but had the perfect round of the day: a 7-under-par 65 that put him right into a tie for thirteenth place.
“It’s only a fun place to walk around and play golf, and when the putts are moving into, it makes it much more enjoyable,” Kisner said.
That seemed an apt summation of day on many a golf course, but success on the Old Course continues to have particular cachet even when the world’s best golfers are having their way with it.
McIlroy is well aware of what winning on Sunday would mean to him and his public — perhaps too aware.
“I really like that I actually have got a lot support,” he said. “But at the identical time I want to type of just stay in my very own little world tomorrow and just play round of golf and hopefully that’s enough.”
It was not quite enough to shake freed from Hovland within the third round. Each began the day at 10-under and within the penultimate group, ahead of second-round leader Smith and first-round leader Young.
Hovland set a torrid pace early, making 4 straight birdies, starting with a 38-foot birdie putt on 3 and a 42-foot birdie putt on 4. But McIlroy made birdies of his own on Nos. 5, 6 and 9 before his eagle from the sand on No. 10 and one other birdie on No. 15 that gave him back the outright lead.
But he couldn’t hold it as Hovland outscrambled him on the seventeenth, making par while McIlroy needed to accept bogey.
At 18, they finished the memorable round as they’d begun it, tied and in buoyant spirits.
“We type of fed off one another and navigated the previous few holes well,” McIlroy said.
This was pure competition, but no grim-faced tussle. There have been fist bumps and smiles and lots of chatter through much of the round.
“Talked about an entire bunch of stuff,” McIlroy said. “Talked about footwear. Talked about what he did the last couple of weeks. He went back home to Norway. He’s going back to Norway after this. Just kept it nice and loose.”
McIlroy may be nine years older, but he and Hovland developed rapport after playing (and losing) on the identical Ryder Cup squad for Europe last 12 months. But though they shall be back together on Sunday, they aren’t any longer teammates.
McIlroy is attempting to end an eight-year major drought by prevailing at the last word Open venue. Hovland is attempting to grow to be the primary Norwegian man to win a significant.
“It’s pretty crazy from where I grew up,” Hovland said. “I actually have to pinch myself, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to carry back tomorrow.”