ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Standing in one in all the Old Course’s 112 bunkers on Saturday, Rory McIlroy was about to be proper the place he wished to be: atop the leaderboard of the British Open.
His drive on the tenth gap had landed in bother however not deep bother, coming to a cease in the center of the sand entice that defends the entrance of the inexperienced.
McIlroy had room to swing freely, and his second shot flew over the lip of the bunker, bounced thrice after which rolled a few extra ft into the cup for eagle.
The 27-yard masterstroke gave McIlroy a one-shot lead over Viktor Hovland, his enjoying companion.
“It was skill to get it somewhere close,” McIlroy stated. “But it was luck that it went in the hole. You need a little bit of luck every now and again, especially in these big tournaments. And that was a nice bonus.”
It was the type of nice shock that may make the distinction between successful or dropping a main championship, and Hovland received a bonus of his personal on Friday when he holed out from the tough from 139 yards for eagle on the par-4 fifteenth.
But Hovland, a 24-year-old Norwegian who excelled at Oklahoma State earlier than turning skilled in 2019, didn’t let McIlroy take pleasure in the lead alone for lengthy. He shortly reeled McIlroy in with a birdie on the tenth that put them each at 15-under par, they usually then dueled down the again 9 of main golf’s most historic course.
McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, was definitely the crowd favourite, however Hovland, a dynamic presence, didn’t shrink from the problem. They completed with matching rounds of 66 and a share of the lead at 16-under par that put them 4 photographs away from 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 prime 4 males on the leaderboard, solely McIlroy, 33, is already a main champion, however the most up-to-date of his 4 victories got here in 2014 when he received the P.G.A. Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.
Since then, he has skilled loads of disappointing Sundays.
“Nothing’s given to you, and I have to go out there and earn it, just like I’ve earned everything else in my career,” he stated.
Other main champions are additionally in vary. Scottie Scheffler, the American who received the Masters in April and is ranked No. 1 in the world, is at 11-under, tied with Kim Si-woo of South Korea. Dustin Johnson, a two-time main winner from the United States who not too long ago jumped to the breakaway LIV Golf collection, is alone at 10-under after a mood-swinging 71 on Saturday.
Matt Fitzpatrick, the Englishman who received this 12 months’s U.S. Open, is at 9-under with Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, and Tommy Fleetwood.
But if McIlroy and Hovland proceed to glitter below stress like they did on Saturday, they could not enable the pack a lot alternative to shut the hole.
“There’s a lot of things that can happen,” Hovland stated. “In these conditions and these pin placements, you can play fine and shoot around even-par, and then that brings a lot of other guys in, as well.”
The climate is forecast to stay comparatively benign on Sunday, with average winds and temperatures in the mid-70s. That may imply extra of the low scores which were the rule at St. Andrews on this one hundred and fiftieth version of the Open Championship.
Several gamers placed on fairly a present on Saturday, together with Shane Lowry, who chipped in for consecutive eagles on 9 and 10; and Kevin Kisner, who barely made the minimize however had the greatest spherical of the day: a 7-under-par 65 that put him into a tie for thirteenth place.
“It’s just a fun place to stroll around and play golf, and when the putts are going in, it makes it even more enjoyable,” Kisner stated.
That appeared an apt summation of a good day on many a golf course, however success on the Old Course continues to have explicit cachet even when the world’s greatest golfers are having their means with it.
McIlroy is properly conscious of what successful on Sunday would imply to him and his public — maybe too conscious.
“I love that I have got so much support,” he stated. “But at the same time I need to sort of just stay in my own little world tomorrow and just play a good round of golf and hopefully that’s enough.”
It was not fairly sufficient to shake freed from Hovland in the third spherical. Both began the day at 10-under and in the penultimate group, forward of second-round chief Smith and first-round chief Young.
Hovland set a torrid tempo 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 personal on Nos. 5, 6 and 9 earlier than his eagle from the sand on No. 10 and one other birdie on No. 15 that gave him again the outright lead.
But he couldn’t maintain it as Hovland outscrambled him at the seventeenth, making par whereas McIlroy needed to accept bogey.
At 18, they completed the memorable spherical as that they had begun it, tied and in buoyant spirits.
“We sort of fed off each other and navigated the last few holes well,” McIlroy stated.
This was pure competitors, however no grim-faced tussle. There had been fist bumps and smiles and loads of chatter via a lot of the spherical.
“Talked about a whole bunch of stuff,” McIlroy stated. “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 9 years older, however he and Hovland developed a good rapport after enjoying (and dropping) on the identical Ryder Cup squad for Europe final 12 months. But although they are going to be again collectively on Sunday, they’re now not teammates.
McIlroy is making an attempt to finish an eight-year main drought by prevailing at the final Open venue. Hovland is making an attempt to develop into the first Norwegian man to win a main.
“It’s pretty crazy from where I grew up,” Hovland stated. “I have to pinch myself, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to hold back tomorrow.”