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Five days after describing winning The Open on the Old Course as golf’s Holy Grail, Rory McIlroy will take a share of the lead into the final round of the 150th Championship following a stunning Saturday at St Andrews.
Buoyed by a brilliant eagle from a bunker on the 10th, McIlroy carded a superb third round of 66 to boost his bid to end an eight-year major drought and become the first European winner at St Andrews since Nick Faldo in 1990.
Only a bogey on the famous Road Hole 17th prevented McIlroy from holding the outright lead, with Ryder Cup team-mate and playing partner Viktor Hovland, chasing his first major title, carding a bogey-free 66 to join the Northern Irishman on 16 under.
McIlroy lifted the Claret Jug in 2014 and won his fourth major in the US PGA a month later, but has not won one of the game’s biggest titles since.
Augusta National co-founder and three-time Open champion Bobby Jones famously said that a player’s career would not be complete without lifting the Claret Jug on the Old Course.
And while McIlroy does not think that is strictly true, the world number two was well aware of the significance of winning the oldest major title at the Home of Golf.
“I don’t know if a golfer’s career isn’t complete if you don’t, but I think it’s the Holy Grail of our sport,” McIlroy said in his pre-tournament press conference on Tuesday.
Asked about the significance of winning on Sunday, McIlroy told Sky Sports: “It would mean everything because of what I have been through the last few years, trying to get the fifth one.
“I have a lot of belief in myself, I know I can do it again. I just need to go out in my own little world and shoot a good score that I know I can do around here.”
Shot of the day
McIlroy attributed it to part-skill, part-luck but admitted holing a bunker shot for an eagle two on the 10th was “a bonus”. The Northern Irishman splashed out and basked in the roars of the crowd as the ball gently rolled towards the hole and dropped.
Round of the day
Kevin Kisner – 65
The American took advantage of favourable conditions early on with a birdie blitz. Kisner, the world number 25 who made the halfway cut right on the mark of level par, was in the second group out just after 8.30am but no-one would have predicted the fireworks which followed. His outward total of 30 was two short of the record lowest score for an Open front nine – set by Denis Durnian at Birkdale in 1983 – and one off Tony Jacklin’s St Andrews front-nine Open best in 1970. It included six birdies in his first eight holes and frustratingly for the 38-year-old he also left two good other opportunities marginally close in a remarkable display of consistently good putting. His back nine could never live up to what went before but three birdies and two bogeys saw him catapult himself up the leaderboard from joint-last to tied 13th at the close.
Tweet of the day
Statistic of the day
Tiger Woods has been – at any given moment – the youngest man with five or more major wins for almost 22 years. Rory McIlroy will change that with a win on Sunday.
The 495-yard par-four 17th played as the toughest hole for the second day running, yielding just one birdie all day, with 44 bogeys, three doubles and one triple-bogey, resulting in a scoring average of 4.63.
The driveable 352-yard par-four ninth: there were seven eagles, 50 birdies, just one bogey, for a scoring average of 3.24.
Selected tee times
2.10pm: Adam Scott, Matt Fitzpatrick
2.20pm: Tommy Fleetwood, Dustin Johnson
2.30pm: Scottie Scheffler, Si Woo Kim
2.40pm: Cameron Smith, Cameron Young
2.50pm: Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland
Becoming dry after light overnight rain and turning increasingly bright towards midday. Wind up to 12mph in the morning, gusting to 18mph in the afternoon, easing to five to 10mph in the evening.