The Open: Sublime McIlroy opens up six-shot lead

The Scoop

Rory on verge of maiden Open triumph

Twelve months ago Rory McIlroy left Muirfield with questions over his equipment, form, swing and Open credentials.

On Sunday he will take a six-shot lead into the final round after once again revelling on Hoylake’s back nine with two eagles in the last three holes as the thunderstorms and weather warnings failed to show up as forecast.

He began the day with a four-shot advantage but was joined in the lead by the 12th after Rickie Fowler completed a hat-trick of birdies. But, as the American went one way with three dropped shots, McIlroy again found his range on the greens with a 35-foot putt at the 14th and an eagle – his first of the week – two holes later. This came courtesy of a 25-foot putt after comfortably finding the green in two with a 4-iron from 252 yards.

There was a third bogey of the day after overshooting the 17th green but, after another trademark crushing drive and towering 5-iron from 239 yards, he finished in magnificent style. The 15-footer for eagle never looked like going anywhere other than underground.

Afterwards McIlroy admitted that it had been one of his best putting days and that his patience had been rewarded late in the day.

“The putter definitely saved me. Even as early as the second hole, I made a good par save there. And then from the 5th onwards I putted really nicely. I made a big par save on 7. I made another good par save on 9. They were sort of momentum putts, putts that you really need to make just to keep the round going. Those were the most important putts for me. Some of those par putts were even more important than the birdie putts or the eagle putts,” he admitted afterwards.

“I was just sort of waiting for those two holes. I felt like I was driving the ball well, and if I could drive it on the fairway on 16 and 18, I knew that I would have irons into the greens for my second shots.”

McIlroy again found his range on the greens with a 35-foot putt at the 14th and an eagle – his first of the week – two holes later For two thirds of a day which was made for scoring bursts Fowler, the most in-form Major player this year with a 5th and 2nd thus far, caught and then threatened to move clear of his former Walker Cup adversary, the next best player from Augusta and Pinehurst. The American birdied four of the first six and the first three of the back nine before then unravelling slightly. A superb sand save at the 18th ensured this would be his best effort, a 68, so far this week.

Sergio Garcia will have to come from seven behind after, like Fowler, making his move on the front nine with four birdies. The Spaniard should have had a fifth birdie at the 11th but a missed putt from a couple of feet stalled his progress and he was unable to make any more inroads on his Ryder Cup colleague. Garcia is level with Dustin Johnson who rallied over the last six holes after drifting out of contention before the turn.

McIlroy only turned 25 in May. He already has two Majors to his name, both by eight shots, and he isn’t worried in the slightest about winning going away from the field. If he completes what we all suspect he’ll do on Sunday he will be three quarters of the way to a career Grand Slam. So how does the thought of that rest with the Northern Irishman?

“It would mean a lot of hype going into Augusta next year! If everything goes the right way there is some achievement by the age of 25. I’d be in pretty illustrious company. So not getting ahead of ourselves, here, but yeah, it would mean an awful lot. 

“I didn’t think that I’d even have the chance at 25 to go for three legs of the Grand Slam. So I’m going to try to put all of that out of my head. It would be way too much to think about and way too much to sort of ponder. First things first. Just play a good solid round of golf. And if that means that I’m going to Augusta next year with a bit of hype, then so be it.”

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