Hoylake: Rory McIlroy waited patiently for the right moment to press the turbo-charge button in the third round of the British Open on Saturday and when he did, he sped away from the field like a finely-tuned Ferrari.
The Northern Irishman’s four-stroke overnight lead had been completely wiped out when he failed to sink a par-saving effort from five feet at the 12th hole.
But rather than feel sorry for himself, he calmly rolled in putts of 33 feet for a birdie at the 14th and 21 feet for an eagle two holes later before another eagle attempt from 11 feet at the last also nestled safely in the cup.
“I knew Rickie Fowler was playing well in front,” McIlroy told reporters after a four-under-par 68 gave him a 16-under aggregate of 200, two strokes off the record 54-hole total at a British Open.
“I bogeyed the 12th and he tied with me there. But I never panicked and I didn’t feel uncomfortable. I knew I had some holes coming up that I could take advantage of,” he added, after ending the day six clear of the second-placed American.
“I feel like today my patience was rewarded. I just waited for my chance and I was able to convert. It was nice to be able to come up with the goods when I needed them over the last few holes,” he said after day’s play on Saturday.
McIlroy achieved his two major victories, at the 2011 US Open and 2012 U.S. PGA Championship, by runaway eight-shot margins and said he knew how to get a front-running job done.
“I’m comfortable in this position,” explained the 25-year-old. “This is the third night in a row I’ll sleep on the lead. It helps that I’ve been in this position before and I’ve been able to get the job done. I’m comfortable with my golf game, comfortable with how I’m hitting it.
“I feel like that’s been a big help this week and I just need to go out there tomorrow and play one more solid round. Hopefully that’s enough.”
The organisers received some criticism for bringing forward the start of play on Saturday in order to dodge the heavy rain and thunderstorms that were forecast. Thankfully the bad weather relented until 10 minutes after play had been completed, at which point the heavens opened.
Asked if the move by the Royal & Ancient was vindicated, the twice major winner looked up, smiled and pointed to the rain hammering down on the roof. “I think it’s the second best decision the Royal & Ancient made this year,” laughed McIlroy.
“The first was bringing the Open back to Royal Portrush,” he added of the plan to return golf’s oldest major to Northern Ireland at an unspecified date in the future. “They got it right. I definitely wouldn’t want to be stuck out in that rain.”
McIlroy overturned a seven-stroke deficit to win the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May, so he will not be taking anything for granted in the final round.
“I won from seven back, so I know how leads can go very quickly,” he said. “A lot can happen. I’ve been on the right side of it and I’ve been on the wrong side of it. That’s why you can’t let yourself think about winning.
“You’ve just got to stay completely in the moment and that’s what I’m going to do for all 18 holes tomorrow,” added McIlroy.