McIlroy prepares to chip onto the green at the 17th where he made his only bogey of the day.
Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland were tied together four shots clear at the top of the leaderboard after a thrilling Saturday showdown which saw the pair fire matching third rounds of 66.
Hovland, bidding to become Norway’s first major champion, made a fast start with four birdies in a row from the third, before McIlroy, bidding for his first major victory since 2014, chipped in from a greenside bunker to eagle the 10th hole and edged ahead with a birdie on 14.
McIlroy dropped a shot at the 17th, his only bogey of the day, and the Ryder Cup teammates both birdied the last to finish on 16-under-par before embracing warmly as the packed galleries gave them a rousing ovation. Just as well that they are good friends, as the pair will have to spend another five-plus hours in each other’s company on Sunday as they battle it out for the Claret Jug.
Speaking about his afternoon’s work, McIlroy said: “I thought it was really good. I missed some opportunities early, but I stayed really patient. And I feel like my patience was rewarded around the turn with a couple of birdies and that hole-out on 10. We sort of fed off each other and navigated the last few holes well.”
Hovland, who has made just three bogeys in his last 54 holes, can think of no better place to win his first major championship. He said: “I don’t think there’s any other place that would top it. Growing up in Norway I always watched The Open Championship for way longer than I ever did the Masters. To win a major that’s closest to home, that would be really cool.”
Hovland made four birdies in a row from the third hole to set up his third round 66
Despite the four-shot lead, neither McIlroy or Hovland are likely think that the Open has suddenly turned into a matchplay championship. Australian Cameron Smith and American Cameron Young lead the chasing pack on 12-under. Smith, the second round leader, struggled to find any momentum as his notoriously hot putter went cold on Saturday afternoon, and he battled hard for his 73, which included a three-putt bogey on the first hole and a double bogey on the 13th. Young also failed to rediscover the spark of his opening round 64 and ground out a 71, with a double bogey at the 16th proving particularly costly.
South Korea’s Kim Si-woo moved into contention on 11-under with a 67, level with world number one Scottie Scheffler, who carded a 69. Dustin Johnson finished at 10-under after visiting several bunkers and topping his tee shot at the final hole in an erratic 71. The English challenge will come from Tommy Fleetwood and Matt Fitzpatrick, both of whom are seven shots off the lead on nine under, a score matched by Adam Scott.
Shane Lowry made back-to-back eagle twos to storm up the leaderboard, but Ireland’s 2019 Open champion faded to finish on seven-under alongside Kevin Kisner, who made nine birdies in his 65, and Tyrrell Hatton, Thomas Pieters and Brian Harman.
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