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British Open Day 3 Recap: McIlroy increases lead to 6 with 2 late eagles

Peter Cziborra / Action Images

Rory McIlroy eagled two of the last three holes Saturday at Hoylake after a shaky start, allowing him to build a six-shot lead over Rickie Fowler heading into the final round at the 2014 British Open.

Current Leaderboard

  • 1. Rory McIlroy -16
  • 2. Rickie Fowler -10
  • T3. Sergio Garcia -9
  • T3. Dustin Johnson -9
  • 5. Victor Dubuisson -8

Hoylake plays easy

When the Royal and Ancient Golf Club decided to move tee times up, going off in threes on split tees for the first time in tournament history, people were upset that they were going against tradition that dates back to 1860, but with the threat of really dangerous weather, they absolutely made the right call. Not being able to finish on Sunday would be disastrous, so this should ensure that they end on time.

The sidebar to this was that with the rain that fell overnight and the complete absence of wind, the course played easier than at any other point in the week. The firm greens and fairways had completely softened, and balls that were caroming into bunkers and fescue were staying in the fairway, while the greens were holding shots that were running off on both Thursday and Friday.

McIlroy starts slow but builds massive lead

Early in the day, things did not look good for McIlroy, who was simply not hitting good shots and was being bailed out by his putter. The four-shot lead he carried into Saturday had completely evaporated by the time he got to the 12th, as Rickie Fowler was able to climb up the board and catch him at the top. But after a birdie on 14, Rory regained his lead and with two par-5s still on the card, he had a chance to separate himself once again.

After a monster drive on 16, McIlroy played to the left side of the green and was able to hit the 25-foot putt for eagle, and with Fowler making bogey on both 15 and 16, Rory's lead was up to five. He dropped a shot on 17, but came back with another massive drive of 340 yards and followed it with a 5-iron from 267 to about 10 feet. The eagle putt landed right in the center, giving Rory a six-shot lead going into the final round on Sunday.

Is it over?

In all likelihood, yes, it is probably over with McIlroy holding a six-shot lead, but big leads have been blown before and there's always a chance that McIlroy could get over aggressive and put himself in bad spots. Remember that he had a four-shot lead coming into Saturday and was caught by Fowler on the back nine, and once again, the players behind him are all "go low" types, so he can't just show up and expect to be given the trophy. An even par round of 72 would probably be just fine Sunday, though.

What's on the line

With how well he's playing, McIlroy is approaching some history here. Tiger Woods has the major record in relation to par at 19-under, and that's definitely in danger of falling, as is the total score of 267, where if McIlroy can shoot 66, he'll have that as well. If he can finish it off Sunday, he'll be just the third player, joining Tiger and Jack Nicklaus, to have won three majors by the age of 25 and he'll be three-quarters of the way to the career grand slam, which has only been done by Bobby Jones, Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen, and Tiger. Also, this is on the line for Rory's dad, Gerry:

Fowler and Garcia

Both Fowler and Sergio Garcia made things interesting Saturday with some incredible ball striking, but they couldn't keep it up late in the round when McIlroy was making his charge. Still, though, tomorrow is big for both of them. For Fowler, he's looking to secure his spot on the American Ryder Cup team, which he said earlier in the year was his number-one goal for the season. It's the second major in a row that he'll be playing in the final group on Sunday, but unfortunately for him, he was five behind Martin Kaymer at Pinehurst and sits six back of McIlroy at Hoylake. 

Anyone who's followed golf over the last 15 years knows about Garcia and his play in major championships. There have been so many close calls that Garcia himself has said in the past he wasn't sure if he was actually capable of winning one, but in the last year or so, he's actually become more capable than ever. The putter is no longer a major issue, despite the short one that he missed on 12 Saturday, and you can tell just by watching him that he's having more fun on the course than ever before. The chances of him winning on Sunday are minuscule, but another good day is a step in the right direction for a player who has way too much talent to never win a major championship.

Other notes

  • Turns out that the decision to move up the times was a good one. As soon as McIlroy finished his round, the weather turned nasty and will likely make the course play even softer during Sunday's final round.
  • Dustin Johnson's weekend struggles in major championships continues, as he was unable to take advantage of the easy conditions and is seven shots back. Only being 4-under on the par-5s this week is a real problem considering his length.
  • Tiger started out hot Saturday with birdies on his opening two holes, but was inconsistent the rest of the way en route to a 1-over par 73.
  • Pretty subtle scoreboard placement, guys:
  • Nice touch by several of the players Saturday to wear black ribbons on their hats in memory of Bob Torrance, father of European star Sam Torrance, who passed away Friday. Bob Torrance had an extremely successful teaching career in golf, most notably with Padraig Harrington, who won three majors under his tutelage.
  • Your final pairing on Sunday: Fowler and McIlroy. They were together at the 2007 Walker Cup. Times have certainly changed.

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