The Open: Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland share the lead at St Andrews after round three
Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland go into the final round of the 150th Open Championship four strokes ahead after a scintillating duel on the Old Course.
The Ryder Cup team-mates wowed the crowd at St Andrews as they both shot six-under par 66 to take the 16-under lead.
McIlroy, trying to end an eight-year great drought, potted a bunker shot for an Eagle two on the par-4 10th, but had his lone bogey on the 17th.
Cameron Smith and Cameron Young are third at 12 under par.
Overnight leader Smith, who led by two points early in the game after a nerveless putting on Friday, stuttered on the first try and missed a tripod for par and that set the tone for the Australian, who carded a 73 and was one of only two players in the top 20 shooting over par.
A run of seven pars followed his bogey on the first try and sent him down the leaderboard while those around him birdied and eagled in the most benign conditions of the week.
Hovland hit the early shots with a run of four birdies from the third to get to 14 under, but McIlroy hit back with three of his own through the ninth.
That drew the Northern Irishman level with Smith and put him adrift of Hovland.
But a sensational 10th hole propelled the world number two to the top of the rankings.
McIlroy made his first visit to the sand this week with a faulty tee shot. He backed away from his ball a few times before calming down and executing the perfect shot, his ball landing a dozen feet short of the pin and rolling into an adjacent par 3 11.
“The eagle was a bonus but I was pretty proud that I kept my composure for the next couple of holes, didn’t drop a shot or go in front of me and I played well all the way through,” McIlroy told BBC Radio 5 Live.
When the eagle fell, Hovland smiled as Hovland does. The world number ninth rallied and two-on dismounted from the front of the green for a birdie. The pair closed at 15 under.
They stayed that way for three holes, breaking the suspense with a laugh and a joke while waiting on the 12th tee. McIlroy said earlier in the week it takes “boring golf” to win a major. Par. Par. Par.
Up to 14. The longest hole on the course. Hovland close in two. McIlroy turned the screw and hammered an iron into the heart of the green. A two-putt birdie put the Norwegian under pressure. Three putts. Par. The roar grew louder as they drove back into town.
“I really appreciate the support,” said McIlroy. “I feel it out there, but I just have to stay in my own little world. I did it well for three days, so I only have to do it for one more day.”
Meanwhile, Smith melted on the 13. With his feet in a bunker and the ball at waist level, he attempted a shot that only Seve Ballesteros could play. A wild blow led to more trouble. The world number six tried again to get his ball onto the green. It went left and a double bogey six was marked on the chart as he dropped to 11 under.
From three behind overnight, McIlroy was now five ahead of Smith, who knows how to win on the big stage after winning the PGA Tour’s flagship Players Championship in March.
Smith’s playing partner Cameron Young played consistently, the American collecting birdies on the two par-five holes and the short par-4 holes nine and ten to maintain an eye on the 14-under lead after 14. But a terrible chip through the green on the 16th resulted in a double bogey.
Ahead, McIlroy and Hovland followed each other across the back of the green on the treacherous par 4 17.
McIlroy’s chip from near the wall crawled onto the green, but the 24-foot par putt pushed six inches.
Choosing a putt from a gravel path, Hovland hit his ball four feet and cupped for par, his eighth straight.
“It was a lot of fun. Shooting a major without bogeying in these conditions was very special,” Hovland told the BBC.
They were locked again at 15 under, McIlroy’s mantra of “boring golf” wins majors ringing true.
And that later became 16 under three on the 18th hole – a hole that was considered the easiest on the course and almost guaranteed a birdie.
Except for Smith and Young, whose rounds fizzled out with unkempt pars.
Others challenged briefly but then faltered in the final holes. Scheffler went from eight to 12 under with a birdie on the 11th, while Dustin Johnson matched that mark on the 10th.
Scheffler returned his shot on the 12th and dropped another on the 17th before ending after a three-under 69 with a birdie and a total of 11-under – the same result as South Korea’s Kim Si-woo, the one 67 had.
That was one better than Johnson, who had three bogeys in the back nine when he signed for a 71.
The English challenge is seven behind. Tommy Fleetwood had the better day with a 66 to move to 9 under while US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick put him to the same total with 69.