Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland locked in battle for Open glory after stunning Saturday

Ryder Cup team-mates both shot 66 to open up four-shot lead over the field at St Andrews

The X-factor. Only certain players can provide the magic. Rory McIlroy is one of them. Viktor Hovland another. On moving day, the Northern Irishman and the Norwegian got forward momentum in a two-ball for the ages in the third round of this 150th Open Championship at the Home of Golf and finished an exhilarating day locked together.

McIlroy shot a 66 that was matched by Hovland, as the two Europeans – spellbinding at times – jointly assumed the 54-holes lead on 16-under-par 200, four shots clear of Australia’s Cameron Smith, who stumbled to a 73 on a day when his putter deserted him, and American Cameron Young.

In truth, the final round is set for a showdown between McIlroy, seeking his fifth career Major and first since the 2014 US PGA, and Hovland, aiming for his first Major.

While Hovland had thrown down the gauntlet on the outward run with a wonderful run of four successive birdies from the third hole to move steadfastly into the lead, McIlroy’s response was quite brilliant with birdies of his own on the fifth, sixth and ninth before a spectacular hole-out eagle two from a bunker on the par-four 10th hole that brought him into a share of the lead.


McIlroy would go ahead on his own with a birdie on the 14th, in what was proving to be a flawless round. The only speedbump, as it were, came on the 17th where his wedge approach from wispy rough flew over the green and came to rest off the stone wall over the road. His recovery pitch found the green, but he failed to make the 25 footer for a par save. It was his only bogey.

“It could have been way worse, it could have been up against the wall,” said McIlroy, who accepted his fate and moved on to finish with a birdie.

Hovland, to his credit, successfully managed to get up and down for par from the sandy path just over the back of the 17th, using a putter to get his ball to four feet and ensuring he kept a bogey off his card in an impressive display. That par save got him back level with McIlroy and, like his friend, he also managed to birdie the closing hole.

McIlroy had started his day by watching the Ireland-New Zealand rugby match and admitted to getting “quite emotional” with the win, before getting himself ready for his own day’s work.

Of the huge support he had all through his round, McIlroy said: “I appreciate it and feel it out there but I am trying my hardest to stay in my own little world because that’s the best way to get the best out of myself.

“Stick to my process, stay in my own little bubble. I’m trying to play with discipline and play the percentages … it is about taking advantage of the holes that are the birdie holes, that’s been the key to this week and the key to tomorrow as well.”

The plan for Sunday’s final round will be to stick to his process and stay in his own cocoon: “I think for me it is expect the unexpected but at the same time focus on myself. If I go out and post a good number, I can’t worry about Viktor or the two Camerons, I have to go out and do my thing.

“I have been here before and done it but nothing is given to you, you have to go out there and earn it just like I have earned everything in my career.”

Shane Lowry had jumped into contention with back-to-back eagles on the par-four ninth and 10th holes, which moved him into tied-fifth at that juncture, but a disappointing run for home – with his putter again his Achilles heel – saw him drift away with any realistic chance of winning gone a day early.

“I’m pretty annoyed,” admitted Lowry, “I keep telling myself and you keep saying all the time that you want to get yourself to the back nine on a Saturday with an opportunity to do something great and I got myself there and didn’t perform.”

Lowry’s magical eagles – a pitch in from the rough on the ninth and from just short of the green on the 10th – briefly raised hopes of another tilt at the title for the 2019 champion. But poor bogeys on the 12th, 15th and 16th left him dispirited and even a birdie to finish didn’t bring any hope as he headed for remedial practice on the putting green.

“To be honest, I think it’s a credit to my game the way I fought to be top-20 going into Sunday around here. I’m fairly bullish about if I do figure something out, I could shoot a score tomorrow. But I’m trying my best. I don’t have the answer. I don’t have the answer. If I did, I wouldn’t need to go to the putting green now. But it’s just hard. This game is hard sometimes,” he said.

David Carey fell victim to the Road Hole bunker late on in his round, where his approach in to the greenside trap on the 17th led to a double bogey. The Dubliner signed for a finishing 73 for a total of 212, four under, to lie in tied-35th.

“It’s very disappointed, not what I wanted at all. I had five birdies which is not bad but I made too many mistakes. Unfortunately I doubted myself a few times instead of just sticking to my thoughts and that cost me a few shots at the end.

“I just doubted myself in terms of clubs and stuff and that cost me, particularly on 17. I came up a club short. I had an eight-iron in my hand and I should have stuck to it. I went back to nine, came up a yard short and had to play out nearly backwards from the bunker,” said Carey.

“I will just go out and try and shoot as low a score as I can. I think I can shoot quite a low one but we will have to wait and see.”


British and Irish unless stated, par 72, (a) denotes amateur

200 Rory McIlroy 66 68 66, Viktor Hovland (Nor) 68 66 66

204 Cameron Smith (Aus) 67 64 73, Cameron Young (USA) 64 69 71

205 Si Woo Kim (Kor) 69 69 67, Scottie Scheffler (USA) 68 68 69

206 Dustin Johnson (USA) 68 67 71

207 Matthew Fitzpatrick 72 66 69, Tommy Fleetwood 72 69 66

207 Adam Scott (Aus) 72 65 70

208 Patrick Cantlay (USA) 70 67 71, Jordan Spieth (USA) 71 69 68

209 Brian Harman (USA) 73 68 68, Tyrrell Hatton 70 66 73, Kevin Kisner (USA) 74 70 65, Shane Lowry 72 68 69, Thomas Pieters (Bel) 75 67 67

210 Bryson DeChambeau (USA) 69 74 67, Dylan Frittelli (Rsa) 70 71 69, Russell Henley (USA) 70 72 68, Francesco Molinari (Ita) 73 71 66, Aaron Wise (USA) 72 67 71, Trey Mullinax (USA) 71 73 66

211 Dean Burmester (Rsa) 71 73 67, Lucas Herbert (Aus) 70 68 73, Nicolai Hoejgaard (Den) 73 67 71, Min-Woo Lee (Aus) 69 69 73, Victor Perez (Fra) 71 69 71, Ian Poulter 69 72 70, Anthony Quayle (Aus) 74 69 68, Jon Rahm (Esp) 73 67 71, Xander Schauffele (USA) 69 70 72, Sahith Theegala (USA) 69 68 74, Will Zalatoris (USA) 73 67 71

212 Abraham Ancer (Mex) 71 68 73, Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa) 73 71 68, David Carey 72 67 73, (a) Filippo Celli (Ita) 74 67 71, Talor Gooch (USA) 68 69 75, Billy Horschel (USA) 73 69 70, Sadom Kaewkanjana (Tha) 71 67 74, Brad Kennedy (Aus) 68 72 72, Joo-Hyung Kim (Kor) 69 71 72, Chris Kirk (USA) 75 68 69, Richard Mansell 73 71 68, Harold Varner III (USA) 73 67 72, Lee Westwood 68 71 73

213 Corey Conners (Can) 71 71 71, Thomas Detry (Bel) 70 69 74, Sergio Garcia (Esp) 75 66 72, Thriston Lawrence (Rsa) 69 71 73, Robert MacIntyre 70 74 69, Adrian Meronk (Pol) 75 68 70, John Parry 69 74 70

214 Marcus Armitage 71 72 71, Paul Casey 71 72 71, Justin de Los Santos (USA) 71 73 70, Tony Finau (USA) 73 71 70, Yuto Katsuragawa (Jpn) 71 68 75, Jason Kokrak (USA) 72 70 72, Jason Scrivener (Aus) 72 71 71, Justin Thomas (USA) 72 70 72, Kurt Kitayama (USA) 68 73 73

215 (a) Barclay Brown 68 70 77, Robert Dinwiddie 67 77 71, Sebastian Munoz (Col) 73 71 71, Lars van Meijel (Ned) 74 70 71, Danny Willett 69 73 73

216 Laurie Canter 72 70 74, Aaron Jarvis (Cay) 75 69 72, Joaquin Niemann (Chi) 69 74 73, Patrick Reed (USA) 72 68 76, Jordan Smith 73 71 72, Cameron Tringale (USA) 71 71 74

217 Adria Arnaus (Esp) 74 70 73, Garrick Higgo (Rsa) 72 69 76

218 Sam Burns (USA) 72 69 77, Sung Jae Im (Kor) 71 73 74, David Law 72 69 77

219 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) 71 72 76

220 Wyndham Clark (USA) 71 73 76

221 Jamie Rutherford 73 70 78

223 (a) Sam Bairstow 72 72 79

Final round tee-times

07:20 (a) Sam Bairstow

07:30 Jamie Rutherford, Wyndham Clark (USA)

07:40 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), David Law

07:50 Sung Jae Im (Kor), Sam Burns (USA)

08:00 Garrick Higgo (Rsa), Adria Arnaus (Esp)

08:10 Patrick Reed (USA), Laurie Canter

08:25 Cameron Tringale (USA), Joaquin Niemann (Chi)

08:35 Jordan Smith, (a) Aaron Jarvis (Cay)

08:45 Danny Willett, (a) Barclay Brown

08:55 Sebastian Munoz (Col), Robert Dinwiddie

09:05 Lars van Meijel (Ned), Yuto Katsuragawa (Jpn)

09:15 Kurt Kitayama (USA), Jason Kokrak (USA)

09:30 Justin Thomas (USA), Marcus Armitage,

09:40 Jason Scrivener (Aus), Paul Casey

09:50 Tony Finau (USA), Justin de Los Santos (USA)

10:00 Thriston Lawrence (Rsa), Thomas Detry (Bel)

10:10 Sergio Garcia (Esp), Corey Conners (Can)

10:20 John Parry, Adrian Meronk (Pol)

10:40 Robert MacIntyre, Talor Gooch (USA)

10:50 Sadom Kaewkanjana (Tha), Abraham Ancer (Mex)

11:00 Lee Westwood, David Carey

11:10 Harold Varner III (USA), Joo-Hyung Kim (Kor)

11:20 Brad Kennedy (Aus), (a) Filippo Celli (Ita)

11:30 Chris Kirk (USA), Billy Horschel (USA)

11:45 Richard Mansell, Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa)

11:55 Sahith Theegala (USA), Min-Woo Lee (Aus)

12:05 Xander Schauffele (USA), Lucas Herbert (Aus)

12:15 Jon Rahm (Esp), Victor Perez (Fra)

12:25 Will Zalatoris (USA), Nicolai Hoejgaard (Den)

12:35 Anthony Quayle (Aus), Ian Poulter

12:55 Aaron Wise (USA), Dean Burmester (Rsa)

13:05 Russell Henley (USA), Dylan Frittelli (Rsa)

13:15 Francesco Molinari (Ita), Bryson DeChambeau (USA)

13:25 Trey Mullinax (USA), Tyrrell Hatton

13:35 Shane Lowry, Brian Harman (USA)

13:45 Thomas Pieters (Bel), Kevin Kisner (USA)

14:00 Jordan Spieth (USA), Patrick Cantlay (USA)

14:10 Adam Scott (Aus), Matthew Fitzpatrick

14:20 Dustin Johnson (USA), Tommy Fleetwood

14:30 Scottie Scheffler (USA), Si Woo Kim (Kor)

14:40 Cameron Young (USA), Cameron Smith (Aus)

14:50 Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland (Nor)

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times