McIlroy eagles 2 of final 3 holes to take commanding lead
Rory McIlroy knows how quickly a big lead can slip away, so he wasn’t satisfied by simply restoring it Saturday in the British Open.
He wanted more.
And when he reached the final hole at Royal Liverpool, he delivered his best two swings of the day.
McIlroy launched a 5-iron from 239 yards in the 18th fairway, stood back to admire the flight and then crouched until the ball rolled up to within 10 feet of the flag for his second eagle in the last three holes.
Five holes earlier, he was tied for the lead.
McIlroy left the course with a 4-under 68 and a six-shot lead, the largest 54-hole margin at The Open since Tiger Woods led by six at St. Andrews in 2000.
That final putt for eagle had the feel of a knockout punch. McIlroy walked up to the green with a swagger. When the eagle putt dropped into the center of the cup, he straightened his back and offered thousands in the grandstand little more than a defiant stare and a light fist pump.
No one has ever lost a six-shot lead in the 121 years that The Open has been contested over 72 holes. Boy Wonder would not seem to be a candidate. The last time he was in this position, he led by eight shot and won by the same margin at Congressional in the 2011 U.S. Open.
Then again, he rallied from seven shots back to win at Wentworth just two months ago.
That’s about all that kept him from picturing his name on the claret jug, from capturing the third leg of the career Grand Slam and joining Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to win three of the majors before turning 25.
“I’m not taking anything for granted,” McIlroy said. “If the guys in front of me had just finished a little better — finished the way I did — then my lead wouldn’t have been as much as it was. ... A lot can happen. And I’ve been on the right side of it and I’ve been on the wrong side of it. You can’t let yourself think forward. You’ve just got to completely stay in the moment, and that’s what I’m going to try to do for all 18 holes tomorrow.”
Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson face a far more difficult task. They have to track down a guy who has won both his majors in runaways.
McIlroy was at 16-under 200.
“If I’m able to go out and get off to a good start, maybe I can put a little bit of pressure on him,” Fowler said after a 68. “Because he’s definitely in control of the golf tournament right now.”
Fowler tried to do his part on a cloudy Saturday with occasional rain, but not nearly what the R&A expected when it went to a two-tee start of the first time in history. Fowler, who was six shots behind going into the third round, ran off three straight birdies to start the back nine and shared the lead when McIlroy made bogey on No. 12.
It all changed so quickly.
Fowler made a bogey on the 14th hole. McIlroy, playing in the group behind, drilled a 35-foot birdie putt that put his lead back to two shots.
“Rickie was just getting close to me,” McIlroy said. “I could hear the cheers in front of me. I just wanted to get ahead. To hole a putt like that was huge.”
And that’s when he turned it on.
McIlroy blasted a drive on the par-5 16th hole and hit 4-iron from 252 yards over a pot bunker to the left side of the green and made a 15-foot eagle putt. That restored his lead to five shots, for Fowler had driven into a pot bunker and made a bogey.
Fowler recovered with a superb shot out of the pot bunker on the 18th to tap-in range for birdie. That put the American into the final group for the second straight major, both times a long way out of the lead. He trailed Martin Kaymer by five shots going into the last day of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
Fowler didn’t get closer than four shots of Kaymer in the final round.
Garcia, who played in final group with Woods at Royal Liverpool in 2006, certainly had his chances. He was only three shots behind at the turn until missing a short birdie putt on No. 12 and failing to convert so many other chances. Garcia had a 69 and was seven shots behind, along with Johnson (71).
“It’s going to be difficult,” Garcia said. “But we’ll give it a shot.”
Johnson cut the four-shot lead in half on the opening hole, hitting wedge into 2 feet for birdie as McIlroy careless went left of the green and into a pot bunker for a bogey. Johnson, however, didn’t make another birdie until the 13th hole and made three birdies over the last six holes to keep alive remote hopes.
This was Rory’s show, just like it was at Congressional, just like it was at Kiawah Island when he won the 2012 PGA Championship.
And yet the biggest crowd belonged to Woods, the sport’s biggest star who is playing his first major since back surgery four months ago. Woods narrowly made the cut on Friday, opened with two straight birdies and that was about all the excitement. He made another double bogey, another triple bogey and shot 73.
Woods was 19 shots out of the lead.
The biggest challenge for McIlroy might be to avoid looking ahead. It was hard. Asked what it would mean to be one major away from a Grand Slam at 25, McIlroy said, “It would mean a lot of hype going into Augusta next year.”
“I’d be in pretty illustrious company,” he said.
FOWLER FACES McILROY AGAIN IN FINAL GROUP AT OPEN
BY PAUL NEWBERRY, Associated Press
HOYLAKE, England — From the time they faced each other in the Walker Cup, a couple of 18-year-olds with the world at their feet, Rickie Fowler figured he’d go at it again someday with Rory McIlroy in a major championship.
If only it was a fair fight.
Fowler will be playing in the final group of a major for the second straight time, but he faces a daunting six-stroke deficit heading to Sunday at the British Open.
With a brilliant finish to the third round, McIlroy put himself in prime position to capture his third major championship. Fowler hopes he can put a bit of pressure on the leader.
“It doesn’t feel like a big stage,” Fowler said. “It feels like I’m supposed to be here.”
Fowler made a big charge at McIlroy with birdies on seven of the first 12 holes Saturday. When McIlroy, playing just behind Fowler in the final group at Royal Liverpool, bogeyed the 12th, they were tied. Fowler had erased a six-shot deficit and seemed to have all the momentum in his favor.
But McIlroy bounced back with a 35-footer for birdie at the 14th, then an eagle at the par-5 16th.
Fowler bogeyed those holes, essentially a five-shot swing in just under an hour.
“Bad swings happen,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate that I kind of strung a few of them together and it cost me a couple of shots coming in.”
Fowler and McIlroy were both rising young stars when they played for their respective countries in the 2007 Walker Cup, a Ryder Cup-style competition matching the United States vs. Ireland and Great Britain.
Fowler contributed three points to the U.S. cause, teaming with Billy Horschel for a 2-and-1 foursomes victory over McIlroy and his partner. The Americans retained the trophy by a single point.
“He was definitely the young star over here, and I was one of the young stars from the U.S.,” Fowler recalled. “It was just a matter of time before the two of us found a way to sneak into a final group together.”
Now 25, Fowler was in a similar position just a month ago at the U.S. Open, his first appearance ever in the final group of a major.
He stepped on the tee at Pinehurst trailing Martin Kaymer by five strokes and never mustered any semblance of a charge, closing with a 2-over 72 that left him tied for second — eight shots behind the German.
“If I can go out and learn from what I did at the U.S. Open, try and get off to a bit of a better start, maybe I’m able to put a bit of pressure on Rory,” Fowler said. “Maybe we can get into a fun little match come the back nine.”
He can’t afford a repeat of 16, one of the easiest holes on the course. Fowler drove into a bunker and was fortunate just to get it out. He missed an 8-footer to save par, and the bogey looked even worse when McIlroy came along.
Fowler bounced back with a birdie at the par-5 closing hole, for a 4-under 68 and a 10-under 206 total. But McIlroy made another eagle to finish off his own 68, leaving him at 200.
He looks forward to playing with Fowler, the two having become good friends since they both bought homes in south Florida.
“We’ll try and treat it like any other day,” McIlroy said, “even though it isn’t.”
For some, Fowler has been more hype than substance, a guy known as much for his unruly hair (since trimmed), wacky clothes (he always wears garish orange duds on Sundays in tribute to his college team, Oklahoma State) and omnipresence on social media as anything he did on the golf course.
But he’s made undeniable strides since hiring swing guru Butch Harmon late last year, gearing up his preparations to peak at the majors.
He hasn’t captured one yet, but it seems only a matter of time.
Fowler tied for fifth at the Masters before sharing the runner-up spot at Pinehurst with Erik Compton.
McIlroy, of course, already has two major titles, winning both the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship in eight-shot runaways. Given their age — McIlroy is about five months younger — and similar backgrounds, the comparisons are inevitable.
Fowler has some catching-up to do.
“He has two majors already,” the American said. “He’s a bit out in front of me right now.”
SERGIO GARCIA SET TO COME UP SHORT AGAIN AT A MAJOR
BY STEVE DOUGLAS, Associated Press
HOYLAKE, England — Sergio Garcia hauled himself to within range of Rory McIlroy at the British Open on Saturday when a roar the Spaniard didn’t want to hear came from the 16th green behind him.
McIlroy had just rolled in an eagle putt from 15 feet to restore his five-stroke lead at Royal Liverpool.
For Garcia, another shot at a first major title was slipping by.
“I’ve always said, at the end of the day we’re all doing our best,” Garcia said. “And if somebody is better than you, you can’t ask yourself for anything else.”
Problem is, Garcia’s best hasn’t quite been good enough at the majors.
Since missing the cut as an amateur at the British Open in 1996, he has recorded nine top-five finishes in the majors. One of them came here in Hoylake in 2006, when he was tied for fifth after shooting a final-round 73 when in the last pairing with Tiger Woods.
On that occasion, he had been one stroke off Woods’ lead after three rounds. Eight years on, his task is even harder — McIlroy is seven shots ahead of him.
“If Rory plays the way he’s been playing, it’s difficult to see anybody catching him,” Garcia said. “But the only thing I can do is play well, try to put a little pressure on him, and see how he reacts to that.”
The 34-year-old Garcia was once the Boy Wonder like McIlroy, a player who people were predicting would win several majors and provide a regular challenge to Woods in golf’s biggest tournaments.
It hasn’t worked out that way — after a final-round collapse at the Masters in 2012, he wrote off his chances of ever ending the major drought — and much of the blame can be attached to his putting.
Two three-putts in the first three holes saw him drift away from contention on that final day in 2006, and the putter let him down here on Saturday on the back nine.
After picking up four shots from Nos. 2 to 9, Garcia was three shots behind McIlroy and on a roll with playing partner Rickie Fowler.
He kept giving himself birdie chances but couldn’t convert, notably at No. 12 where he missed a short putt. Garcia two-putted for birdie at No. 16, but was in the rough beside the 17th green when McIlroy made his big move.
“Obviously I heard the roar on 16,” Garcia said. “I imagined it was an eagle.”
In largely wind-free conditions, the 18th was playing easy but Garcia tugged his tee shot left, pushed his second shot right, and left himself a 20-foot putt for birdie. He missed.
“The only thing I would have loved to (do) is hit a couple of better shots coming in on (Nos.) 17 and 18,” Garcia said. “That was what disappointed me a little bit more than seeing Rory making eagles and birdies.”
Garcia won’t be without support in the final round. The galleries at Royal Liverpool really got behind him in 2006 when he was dressed head to toe in garish yellow but Woods was too strong a foe.
This time, it’s McIlroy who’ll likely deny Garcia the claret jug.
OPEN NOTEBOOK: TIGER KEEPS GOING IN WRONG DIRECTION
BY DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf Writer
HOYLAKE, England — Tiger Woods was the last to tee off Saturday in the British Open. He had the biggest gallery. It might have seemed like old times for Woods in the major championships except for one tiny detail.
He was starting on the 10th tee in last place. And this third round didn’t get much better.
Woods began the British Open with five birdies in a six-hole stretch for a 69 that put him only three shots behind Rory McIlroy. He walked off Royal Liverpool on Saturday with another round over par, leaving him 19 shots out of the lead.
“Made a lot of mistakes,” Woods said.
Woods was 5-over par on the opening two holes going into the weekend. At least he was able to start with a par 5 on Saturday at No. 10, and he opened with a pair of birdies. That was about as good as it got.
He made a double bogey for the second straight day, this time at No. 2. He drove into a gorse bush on the seventh fairway and made a triple bogey for the second straight day. The damage added to a 73, leaving him 19 shots behind.
“I’ve made two doubles and two triples,” Woods said. “But on top of that, I missed a lot of shots for opportunities for birdies, and consequently I’m 3-over par.”
Woods is playing for only the second time since back surgery on March 31. He missed the cut at Congressional three weeks ago. He has not mentioned anything about pain from his back surgery, which is good news for him. And he said he was starting to get into the flow of playing tournament golf again.
“But still I’ve just made too many mistakes,” he said. “You can’t run up high scores like that and expect to contend, especially when the conditions are this benign. Most of the scores are 3-under par or better. I certainly didn’t do that.”
Woods was tied for 58th. Except for missing the cut five years ago at Turnberry, he has never finished out of the top 30 in the British Open.
This week doesn’t seem to provide any answers about being picked for the Ryder Cup. U.S. captain Tom Watson has said he wants Woods on the team provided he is healthy and playing well. Woods at least is playing better than the 64-year-old Watson, who shot a 75 and is two shots behind Woods.
Watson had hoped to talk to Woods this week about the Ryder Cup. Watson said all he had time to say to Woods this week was, “Hello.”
CLARKE’S REBOUND: Darren Clarke has only two top 10s in the three years since he won The Open at Royal St. George’s — a runner-up against a weak field in China, and a tie for eighth in the Australian PGA Championship.
He gave himself a chance for another with a 5-under 67 on Saturday, matching the best score of the day. Clarke was 11 shots out of the lead in a tie for 12th.
“I’ve been playing OK for quite some time,” Clarke said. “Today I holed a couple of putts and managed to keep some momentum going.”
Of course, he has had to adjust to a new body. Clarke has lost some 50 pounds after seeing photos of himself that he thought made him look to0 large.
“I’m not as fat as I was,” he said. “So my timing, it took me a little bit of time to adjust to that. The ball-striking has been pretty good. I just need to knock in a few putts and get some momentum going. It feels like I’ve started to do that.”
WITHIN RANGE: The goal for Rory McIlroy is to win the claret jug on Sunday, and he’s in great shape with a six-shot lead.
A few more records also are in range.
McIlroy was at 16-under 200.
He would need a 66 to break the 72-hole record of 267 that Greg Norman set at Royal St. George’s in 1993. More in range would be Tiger Woods’ record for all major championships in relation to par — 19 under at St. Andrews in 2000. McIlroy would need a 68 to break that record.
McIlroy already holds the U.S. Open record for score (268) and par (16 under) at Congressional in 2011.
As for margin of victory? That’s most likely out of range. Old Tom Morris won by 13 shots in 1862, when the Open was played over 36 holes. But he would have a reasonable shot at the largest margin for 72 holes at The Open. Five players hold that record — eight shots — most recently by Louis Oosthuizen at St. Andrews in 2010.
TEE TIMES IN THE DARK: Henrik Stenson wasn’t bothered by the two-tee start as much as not knowing when he was playing.
Stenson was among several players who were trying to find out their tee times for Saturday before going to bed.
“That was probably more of a nuisance than starting off two tees,” he said. “I went to bed. I was just guesstimating. And I was only five minutes out on my guesstimate when I was going to tee off. Yeah, you hope to have tee times before 11 or 11:30 the night before the third round.”
Stenson didn’t find out his actual time until the morning. He said his caddie woke up in the middle of the night and checked. He didn’t think it was that big of a deal to other players unless they “didn’t guess as good as I did.”
DIVOTS: Jordan Spieth has now played with Tiger Woods five times this year — twice at Torrey Pines, twice at Congressional and Saturday in the British Open. Spieth is 20 shots better than Woods in those five rounds. ... Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler are the only players to shoot in the 60s all three rounds going into Sunday. Three players have posted all four rounds in the 60s at The Open without winning — Ernie Els at Royal Troon in 2004, Jesper Parnevik at Turnberry in 1994, and Els at Royal St. George’s in 1993. ... Matteo Manassero didn’t register a par until the eighth hole. He opened with two bogeys, followed with four straight birdies and made another bogey at No. 7. Manassero wound up with a 68 and was tied for seventh.
AT A GLANCE: ROUND 3 OF 2014 BRITISH OPEN
The Associated Press
A brief look at the third round Saturday at the British Open:
LEADING: Rory McIlroy shot a 4-under 68 and is at 16-under 200 overall.
TRAILING: Rickie Fowler is six strokes behind, with Sergio Garcia another shot back.
BIG ADVANTAGE: McIlroy has the largest 54-hole edge at the British Open since Tiger Woods also led by six at St. Andrews in 2000.
GOOD ODDS: No player has ever blown a six-shot lead on the final day at golf’s oldest major championship.
SHOT OF THE DAY: McIlroy’s 5-iron from 239 yards rolled up 10 feet from the cup at No. 18, setting up his second eagle.
WHERE’S TIGER: Nowhere close to the lead. Woods had a double bogey and a triple bogey on the way to a 73 that left him 19 shots behind McIlroy.
DEFENDING CHAMP: Phil Mickelson didn’t get the score he needed in prime conditions for going low. He was 15 shots behind after a 71.
TWO TEES: The R&A’s unprecedented decision to start early off two tees looked justified when heavy rain pounded Royal Liverpool less than an hour after the round ended.
NOTEWORTHY: With another round in the 60s, McIlroy would tie or beat the major championship record for the lowest score in relation to par — Woods’ 19-under score at the 2000 British Open.
QUOTEWORTHY: “I’ve been in this position before, and I’ve been able to convert, and I’ve been able to get the job done.” — McIlroy, on his comfort at holding a big lead as he goes for his third major title.
TEE TIMES (All times EDT): McIlroy, Fowler, 9:40 a.m.; Garcia, Dustin Johnson, 9:30 a.m.; Adam Scott, Matteo Manassero, 9:10 a.m.
TELEVISION (All times EDT): 6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., ESPN.
|At Royal Liverpool Golf Club|
|Purse: $9.24 million|
|Yardage: 7,312; Par: 72|
|Billy Hurley III||73-72-76—221||+5|
|At Royal Liverpool Golf Club|
|Purse: $9.24 million|
|Yardage: 7,312 yards; Par: 72|
|All Times EDT|
3:35 a.m. — Charley Hoffman, United States; Billy Hurley III, United States.
3:45 a.m. — Ryan Palmer, United States; Jamie McLeary, Scotland.
3:55 a.m. — Tom Watson, United States; John Senden, Australia.
4:05 a.m. — Brendon Todd, United States; Jason Day, Australia.
4:15 a.m. — Koumei Oda, Japan; Rhein Gibson, Australia.
4:25 a.m. — Brooks Koepka, United States; Thorbjorn Olesen, Denmark.
4:35 a.m. — Stewart Cink, United States; Matt Every, United States.
4:45 a.m. — Tiger Woods, United States; Jason Dufner, United States.
5 a.m. — Gregory Bourdy, France; Matt Kuchar, United States.
5:10 a.m. — Chris Wood, England; Paul Casey, England.
5:20 a.m. — Henrik Stenson, Sweden; Thomas Bjorn, Denmark.
5:30 a.m. — Chris Rodgers, England; Martin Kaymer, Germany.
5:40 a.m — Matt Jones, Australia; Brandt Snedeker, United States.
5:50 a.m. — Zach Johnson, United States; Luke Donald, England.
6 a.m. — Hideki Matsuyama, Japan; D. A. Points, United States.
6:10 a.m. — Gary Woodland, United States; Thongchai Jaidee, Thailand.
6:25 a.m. — Hunter Mahan, United States; Kevin Stadler, United States.
6:35 a.m. — Kevin Na, United States; Bill Haas, United States.
6:45 a.m. — Phil Mickelson, United States; Angel Cabrera, Argentina.
6:55 a.m. — Kevin Streelman, United States; Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa.
7:05 a.m. — David Hearn, Canada; Ben Martin, United States.
7:15 a.m. — Francesco Molinari, Italy; George Coetzee, South Africa.
7:25 a.m. — Shane Lowry, Ireland; Kristoffer Broberg, Sweden.
7:35 a.m. — Keegan Bradley, United States; Chris Kirk, United States.
7:50 a.m. — Brian Harman, United States; Jordan Spieth, United States.
8 a.m. — David Howell, England; Stephen Gallacher, Scotland.
8:10 a.m. — An Byeong-hun, South Korea; Branden Grace, South Africa.
8:20 a.m. — Ryan Moore, United States; Marc Warren, Scotland.
8:30 a.m. — Jimmy Walker, United States; Marc Leishman, Australia.
8:40 a.m. — Justin Rose, England; Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland.
8:50 a.m. — Darren Clarke, Northern Ireland; Charl Schwartzel, South Africa.
9 a.m. — Jim Furyk, United States; Robert Karlsson, Sweden.
9:10 a.m. — Adam Scott, Australia; Matteo Manassero, Italy.
9:20 a.m. — Edoardo Molinari, Italy; Victor Dubuisson, France.
9:30 a.m. — Dustin Johnson, United States; Sergio Garcia, Spain.
9:40 a.m. — Rickie Fowler, United States; Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland.