|-16 R McIlroy (NI), V Hovland (Nor); -1 2 C Smith (Australia), C Young (USA); -11 S Scheffler (USA), SW Kim (Kor)|
|Selected: -10 Dr. Johnson (USA); -9 T Fleetwood (Eng), M Fitzpatrick (Eng), A Scott (Aus); -8 J Spieth (USA); -seven S Lowry (Ire), T Hatton (Eng); -6 B DeChambeau (USA); -5 I Poulter (Eng)|
Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland take a four-stroke lead in the final round of the 150th Open Championship after a scintillating duel on the Old Course.
The Ryder Cup teammates delighted the St Andrews crowd as they both shot six under par 66 to lead on 16 under.
McIlroy, who is trying to end an eight-year major drought, drilled a bunker shot for an eagle two on the par-four 10 but had his solitary bogey on the 17.
Cameron Smith and Cameron Young are tied for third on 12 under par.
Overnight leader Smith, who led by two early in the game after a nerveless display on Friday, stammered on the first, missing a three-footer for par, and that set the tone for the Aussie, who carded a 73 and was one of only two players in the top 20 to shoot over par.
A series of seven pars followed his bogey at first, dropping him down the leaderboard as those around him birdied and eagled in the most benign of conditions of the week.
Hovland, yet to win one of golf’s biggest prizes, hit the opening shots with a series of four birdies from the third to come 14 under, but McIlroy – a four-time major winner – hit back with three of his by the ninth.
This drew the Northern Irishman level with Smith and put him one behind Hovland.
But a sensational 10th hole saw the world number two, who won that title in 2014, rise to the top of the leaderboard.
McIlroy visited the sand for the first time this week, with an errant tee shot. He backed his ball several times before settling down and hitting the perfect shot, his ball landing a dozen feet from the pin and rolling. The cheers that greeted him surprised world number one Scottie Scheffler who was about to tee off on the adjacent par three 11th.
“The eagle was a bonus but I was quite proud that I kept my composure over the next few holes, didn’t drop a shot or got ahead of me and played well over time,” said the 33-year-old to BBC Radio. 5 Live.
As the eagle fell, Hovland smiled, as did Hovland. The 24-year-old world number nine calmed down and doubled down from the front of the green for a birdie. The pair locked on 15 under.
They would stay that way for three holes, breaking the tension with a laugh and a joke as they waited for the 12th tee. McIlroy said earlier this week that “boring golf” was necessary to win a major tournament. By. By. By.
At the 14th. The longest hole on the course. Hovland just runs in two. McIlroy turned the screw, driving an iron into the heart of the green. A two-putt birdie put the pressure on the Norwegian. Three bets. By. The roars grew louder and louder as they headed back towards town.
“I certainly appreciate the support,” McIlroy said. “I feel it there but I just have to stay in my little world. I did it well for three days so I just have to do it one more day.”
Meanwhile, Smith grounded the 13. With his feet in a bunker and the ball waist high, he attempted the kind of shot that only Seve Ballesteros could play. A savage hit led to more problems. The world number six again attempted to advance his ball to the green. He went left and a double bogey six was scored on the board as he dropped to 11 under.
From three behind, McIlroy was now five ahead of Smith, who knows how to win on the big stage, after winning the PGA Tour flagship title in March.
Smith’s playing partner Cameron Young played steadily, the American collecting birdies at both par fives and the short par fours on the ninth and 10th holes to keep the leaders in sight at 14 under after 14. But an awful chip across the green on the 16th leads to a double bogey.
In front, McIlroy and Hovland took turns behind the green on the treacherous par-four 17th.
McIlroy’s chip near the wall slipped onto the green but the par 24-foot putt slipped six inches wide.
Hovland opted to putt from a gravel path and hit his ball four feet and drilled for par, his eighth in a row.
“It was a lot of fun. To shoot bogey-free in a major tournament in those conditions was pretty special,” Hovland told the BBC.
They were again locked under 15, McIlroy’s mantra of “boring golf” winning majors ringing true.
And that became 16 in less than three strokes later on 18 – a hole ranked as the easiest on the course, almost guaranteeing a birdie.
Except for Smith and Young, whose rounds crumbled with scruffy pars.
Others briefly challenged but then faltered in closing holes. Scheffler went from eight under to 12 under with a birdie on the 11th, while Dustin Johnson also hit that mark on the 10th.
Scheffler, however, gave his shot back on the 12th and left another on the 17th before finishing with a birdie and a total of 11 under after a total of three under 69 – the same score as South Korean Kim Si-woo, who had a 67.
It was one better than Johnson, who had three bogeys on the back nine as he signed for a 71.
The English challenge is seven back. Tommy Fleetwood had the best day with a 66 to move to nine under, while US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick’s 69 took him to the same total.
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