A sensational double eagle finish from Rory McIlroy gave him a six-stroke cushion going into the final round of the British Open as he crushed a chasing pack of challengers who tried and failed to hunt him down during a rain-hit third round.
The 25-year-old Irishman, looking to add a third major to his collection and a first on British soil, started the day with a four-stroke lead. But by the time he reached the 12th hole that had vanished and he was caught in a dogfight with American shot-maker Rickie Fowler, hungry to win his first major. That was when McIlroy, who had been struggling off the tee, produced his best golf of the week at Royal Liverpool.
A birdie at 14 eased him back ahead, and with Fowler going off the boil, McIlroy struck what could prove to be two tournament-winning blows with magnificent eagles at the 16th and 18th.
That gave him a 68 and left him at 16-under for the tournament six strokes clear of Fowler who had eight birdies en route to a 68. It was the biggest lead at the third-round stage of the Open since Tiger Woods at St Andrews in 2000. Woods eventually won by eight strokes on that occasion. A further stroke back came Spaniard Sergio Garcia who had a 69 and Dustin Johnson of the United States with a 71. Frenchman Victor Dubuisson was next best on eight under after a 68.
“Rickie Fowler was getting close to me. I knew if I could hit good drives on 16 and 18 I would have a good chance of birdie, I didn’t expect to hit eagles but there you go,” he said. “It is a good thing I have experienced this before, good and bad. Hopefully some of that experience I can take into tomorrow.
“My game plan all week has been to take care of the par fives and I want to do that again tomorrow.”
It was already a remarkable day for the British Open because for the first time in its 154-year long history the field went out from both the first and 10th tees instead of just everyone going off the first. That was due to a decision taken by tournament organisers the R&A to bring forward the start times and share them between 1 and 10 in an effort to complete the round in the face of bad weather forecast for later on. As it was, the 72-strong field was greeted with torrential rain as they arrived at the historic links layout on the Wirral peninsula south of Liverpool.