While Rory McIlroy set the pace in the final group and eventually earned a commanding six-shot lead, a pair of gun-slingers in front provided an exemplary demonstration of ball-striking and links-craft.

To judge by Saturday’s third round alone, Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia really ought to end their careers with a Claret Jug or two to their name. One may still arrive as soon as this weekend but the chances are they will have to wait at least 12 months.

On a day when the bad weather never materialised we had piercing long irons shaped to follow the contours of a dogleg. We had the occasional driver when they sensed an opportunity to attack. We had creative wedge shots when the occasional green was missed.

Fowler, the 25-year-old Californian, kept hitting his approaches in close. Garcia, also his playing partner for the first two days, invariably hit it even closer.

Fowler was more convincing on the greens. Poor Garcia managed to hit it all but stiff on the 12th and still not make birdie.

Both men instinctively knew what the right shot was in any given situation.

On the par-5 10th, both hit surprisingly poor seconds, attacking the green. Fowler pulled a good lie on the rough and duly took advantage, making the first of three successive birdies. The Spaniard found a brutal spot – in brambles, on a downslope, with the enormous elephant trap bunker between him and the flag, cut precariously in the front left corner. He played a bump into the bank and let the ball release into the back corner of the green, miles away from the flag.

Two putts later and he had his five, which was simply the best score he could have made from the position he was in. And that’s all you can do in links golf – accept the cards you have been dealt and make the best possible job of it.

Fowler kept hitting his approaches in close. Garcia, his playing partner for the first two days as well, invariably hit it even closer.
At one point, after said 12th, Fowler had moved three clear of his partner and level with McIlroy. But Garcia has a touch more experience about him and so it was that the tortoise eventually caught up with the hare as his younger friend and rival stumbled late in the day.

To Fowler’s great credit, he rallied for a tap-in birdie at the last, meaning it will be him and not Garcia alongside McIlroy for the final round.

With three rounds in the 60s, he can consider himself unfortunate to be so far behind the leader.

As for Garcia, still only 34, he looked to have plenty in the tank the quality of his shots diminishing not a jot over the years.

When he finally holed a couple of putts worthy of the name, for par on the 15th and birdie on the 16th, there were fist clenches and signs that the man who made his Open debut back in 1996 was fancying his chances.

Unfortunately, that was as good as it got, bogeys for both on the 17th while McIlroy was making his eagles on 16 and 18 meaning they will begin the final day six and seven shots respectively behind the leader.

They can still catch him – but they will need a little help from a man who has run both his two Majors to date running away from the field.