HOYLAKE, England – Garry Harvey could easily take tomorrow off. The official engraver of the Old Claret Jug can etch the name Rory McIlroy on the most coveted trophy in golf.
It’s hard to believe McIlroy can blow a six-shot lead.
The two-time major winner starts the final round on 16 under par after a third-round 68, six strokes ahead of Rickie Fowler and seven in front of Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson.
Use any cliché you want. The fat lady’s starting to sing; turn out the lights, the party’s over; whatever. After three rounds in the 60s, it’s hard to see McIlroy shooting a high number tomorrow, despite the pressure that goes with trying to win an Open Championship.
McIlroy extended the four-shot lead he had at the start of the day thanks to eagles at the 16th and 18th holes. He hit a 248-yard, 4-iron second to the 577-yard 16th and holed a 21-foot putt. At 18, he hit 5-iron from 237 yards to 11 feet and drained that putt too.
“I felt like today my patience was rewarded,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t get off to the best of starts again. I had a few chances around the turn to maybe make birdies, and I wasn’t able to do that.
“The finish speaks for itself. I was sort of waiting for those two holes. I felt like I was driving the ball well, and if I could drive it on the fairway on 16 and 18, I knew that I would have irons into the greens for my second shots.
“To be able to make two threes there coming in was very important, and obviously sets me up nicely for tomorrow.
“This is the third night in a row that I’ll sleep on the lead, so I’m comfortable. It helps that I’ve been in this position before and have been able to convert.”
McIlroy held big overnight leads when he won the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship.
Fowler also shot 68, and at one point was tied for the lead with Rory at 12 under par. However, Fowler dropped shots at the 14th, 16th and 17th holes before picking up a birdie at the par-5 18th hole to ensure a tee off time with McIlroy in the final round.
“I’m definitely satisfied,” Fowler said. “I got off to a great start today through 12 holes. I was playing very solidly, and looking to draw on that for tomorrow. I had two tee shots that slipped away from me a little bit on the back nine and one approach shot on 17. Three of those definitely cost me coming in.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow. 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, because he’s definitely in control of the golf tournament right now.”
Garcia returned a 3-under-par 69 while Johnson disappointed with a 71. Johnson enjoyed a two-shot swing at the first hole with a birdie to a McIlroy bogey, but Johnson couldn’t stay with McIlroy.
Only five men – Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods – have won all four majors. Another 10 have won three of the four. The Ulsterman stands on the verge of joining them.
“Not a lot of people have achieved the Grand Slam,” McIlroy said. “If everything goes the right way tomorrow, to get three quarters of the way there is some achievement by the age of 25. I’d be in pretty illustrious company.
“I’m going to try to put that out of my head. It would be way too much to think about and way too much to ponder. First things first. Just play a good solid round of golf tomorrow. If that means that I’m going to Augusta next year with a bit of hype, then so be it.”
Count on it. McIlroy has both hands on the Old Claret Jug. It’s hard to see him dropping it.