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Twenty-nine majors, or 2,898 days, have come and gone for Rory McIlroy since he lifted the US PGA Championship trophy in Valhalla. Shortly after 1 / 4 previous seven on the third day of this one hundred and fiftieth Open Championship, McIlroy jumped to the highest of the leaderboard. He’ll begin the fourth spherical tied for that place and, extra considerably, 18 holes behind Seve Ballesteros’ massive profitable tally.

The Spaniard would absolutely approve of McIlroy claiming quantity 5 at St Andrews. Within the area of just about eight sometimes painful years, McIlroy has by no means come nearer to reaching such a feat. He has by no means seemed extra able to pulling it off. Nevertheless, the 33-year-old will know all too nicely the powerful roads forward of him. In Viktor Hovland, who shares 16 beneath with McIlroy, the Northern Irishman has a formidable opponent. The duo traded blows like famous person boxers on day three right here. Combining 66 felt completely applicable as McIlroy and Hovland parted methods from the sector.

Not that it is sensible to rule out all suitors completely. Hovland and McIlroy’s scale of brilliance made it troublesome to examine an alternate champion. Cameron Younger and Cameron Smith are nearer to the leaders at 12 beneath. Kim Si-woo is a bit additional again, together with World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler. Kim’s 67 was the bottom rating of the third day of that group.

If McIlroy emerges victorious, ideas will flip to the essential second of the third spherical. A bunker shot from about 30 yards is meant to be the toughest shot in golf. What a mockery of that idea at 10, the place he holed out for an eagle. What do McIlroy and the large championship sand traps have? He jumped for pleasure at Augusta Nationwide after hitting the underside of the cup on the 72nd gap from a greenside bunker. In Fife, McIlroy punched the air to enthusiastic applause.

Hovland had flown from the traps. The Norwegian rattled off 4 birdies in a row from the third. McIlroy, who had missed alternatives, was the person beneath stress. His response, courtesy of birdies at 5, 6 and 9 earlier than heroics at 10, was that of a champion. Hovland and McIlroy have been now stage at 15 beneath par.

McIlroy’s subsequent lead, gained on the 14th, was nullified on the penultimate gap. Hovland cleverly saved the pair from a path. McIlroy, whose second shot was lengthy sufficient to go away simply sufficient room for a backswing in opposition to the perimeter wall, could not rating greater than 5. Each gamers made birdies on the finish, with the dimensions of mutual gratitude for what had occurred in the course of the earlier 4 and 1 / 4 hours completely clear.

Viktor Hovland tees off within the sixth throughout his spectacular third spherical. {Photograph}: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

Dustin Johnson, the LIV maverick more than likely to win the Open, hit 12 beneath par after a dozen holes. He was three forward. Bogeys on the thirteenth, 14th and sixteenth stopped charging him. The previous World No. 1 birdied the tip after a smashed drive, however 10-under requires billiards.

Tommy Fleetwood and Matt Fitzpatrick sit at zero beneath 9. Fleetwood turned in a 66. Tyrrell Hatton began the day with minus eight, however dropped to 73. Hatton watched his teammate Talor Gooch’s sluggish play with murderous intent.

This could possibly be a memorable weekend for Filippo Celli, the Italian novice, who’s in pole place to gather the silver medal. Celli is 4 beneath par after a 71. He has his eyes on a jackpot subsequent September in his homeland. “I hope to be that Italian boy who will play within the Ryder Cup in Rome,” Celli mentioned. “It might be nice.”

Shane Lowry chipped in an eagle on the ninth earlier than repeating the feat on the following gap. Such a situation hadn’t offered itself at an Open since 2001. Lowry had hit 9 beneath par on the time, which meant his place at minus seven on the shut of the sport was a frustration. The 2019 champion believes he has “no likelihood” of a second Open victory.

“I felt like midway by means of the entrance 9 I used to be doing okay, not doing something good,” Lowry defined. “Clearly 9 and 10 handed and I felt like I used to be within the match.

“I am fairly upset and fairly indignant, to be sincere. I maintain telling myself and I maintain telling myself on a regular basis that you simply need to get to the again 9 on a Saturday with an opportunity to do one thing nice. I bought there right this moment and I did not act. In order that’s very disappointing.”

Jordan Spieth’s 68 moved it to minus eight. “I will in all probability take an ice tub tonight,” he mentioned. “Ice baths are way more troublesome in Scotland than in Memphis.” Spieth is fortunate that he solely visits these shores in the summertime.

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“I would like some sort of loopy monsoon coming tomorrow to face an opportunity,” Spieth added. “Even when I shoot eight beneath zero, I nonetheless suppose I lose by greater than three. I am ready the place taking pictures seven or eight would imply a extremely sturdy end and acquire a number of momentum. There shall be no ‘giving up’. It isn’t like I am forty fifth.”

Xander Schauffele made an eagle on the finish, however two sixes within the again 9 had already killed his possibilities. Schauffele sits at minus 5. Jon Rahm and Will Zalatoris are in the identical group. Justin Thomas’s birdie three on the seventeenth at 15:15 was the primary of the day on that well-known gap, which performed extra like a par 5. McIlroy and Hovland, Ryder Cup teammates, reached that time whereas nonetheless within the midst of open warfare. It was essentially the most charming sports activities theater.

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