Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland share British Open lead, Scottie Scheffler close behind
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Rory McIlroy has moved into the void left by Tiger Woods’ departure to the British Open, holding a bunker shot for the eagle and spinning the St. Andrews gallery at every turn on Saturday as he was nearing the end of eight years without a major.
There’s one more lap left on a stage he shares with Norwegian star Viktor Hovland. They each posted a 6-under 66, building a four-under cushion by avoiding the blunders that sent so many contenders in the wrong direction.
Masters champion and Highland Park product Scottie Scheffler was in hiding after a 69. He missed a 10-foot birdie chance on the 16th, then put three putts on the 17th for a bogey. Scheffler, who finished one shot behind at the US Open, had a 69 and was five behind with Si Woo Kim (67).
Dallas-area golfer Jordan Spieth shot 4-under 68 in the third round, finishing the day at 11-under and tied for 11th. Fellow area golfers Bryson DeChambeau (5-under 67) and Will Zalatoris (1-under 71) finished the day tied for 18th and 24th respectively.
Cameron Smith, who started with a two-stroke lead, took a double bogey on the 13th hole when he attempted a bold play with his feet in a bunker. Cameron Young crossed the 16th green, then came back down the other side for a double bogey on the 16th hole.
Dustin Johnson crossed the green and into a bunker and lost six shots behind.
McIlroy and Hovland, who were 16-under 200, had no problems Saturday.
Hovland landed a pair of 40-foot putts on his way to four consecutive front-nine birdies to take the lead. McIlroy finally caught him by pierce from a bunker some 80 feet away for the Eagle on the 10th hole, unleashing a roar that could be heard all the way back to the Royal & Ancient clubhouse.
McIlroy only a day earlier tipped his cap towards Woods as he entered his second round and Woods was about to miss the cut, crossing the Swilcan Bridge for what could have been the last time. The R&A set the start times this way so that they intersect.
Woods is the only one to run the sport, despite McIlroy being the most popular in the world, and it looked like this – on the first tee when McIlroy was introduced, for every birdie, and when he first took the lead with a birdie on the 14th.
“I love having so much support,” McIlroy said. “But at the same time, I need to stay in my little world and try to play a good game of golf. Hopefully that will be enough.
His only mistake was coming off the rough left and over the 17th green, across the road and near the rock wall. He played a safe pitch to the green and two putts for bogey.
Hovland, with no bogey for the lap, showed his own magic on the 17th by putting the dirt road just off the road, up the hill about 5ft for a par.
At 24, Hovland already has six wins around the world after a stellar amateur career at Oklahoma State, including a US amateur title at Pebble Beach.
It’s his first big moment in a major, and he’s proven himself up to the task. Hovland has also seen – and heard – what will happen on Sunday.
“I put a few in there,” he said of the cheers directed so heavily at McIlroy. “I’m probably an underdog, but that doesn’t bother me at all. I hope we can surpass ourselves tomorrow.
Smith missed a narrow birdie chance on the 18th and shot a 73. His biggest mistake was not putting the ball back in play on the 13th, instead trying to get the ball forward and getting into tight spots. He also threw three 30-foot putts to start his round and only managed two birdies.
Young, the PGA Tour rookie who completed a playoff shot at the PGA Championship two months ago, had a 71.
Johnson was also under three hits until a bogey on the par-5 13th and another on the 14th, where his long eagle putt raced up a hill, across the green and into a pot bunker. Instead of a birdie, he had to rush for a bogey. He dropped two more shots for a 71 and was six behind.
McIlroy last won a major in 2014 at the PGA Championship at Valhalla. He would love nothing more than to win at the birthplace of golf, on the Old Course where Jack Nicklaus once said that a player’s career wouldn’t be complete without winning a claret at St. Andrews.
“Every part of my game has gone well this week,” McIlroy said. “I just need to carry on for one more day.”
The SportsDay team contributed to this post.
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