The 2014 British Open is often a struggle between golfer and nature, with only a handful of experienced professionals able to overcome the larger forces at play.
The wind comes and goes in a frenzy in Hoylake, England, creating difficult shots for many players.
Rory McIlroy hasn't found it too difficult, as he is 12-under after two rounds. He's also overcome his tendency to fall into dangerous patterns, as he posted a second-round 66 after struggling on the second day of various tournaments in 2014, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Rory McIlroy scheduled to tee off at 9:27 AM ET on ESPN. He leads TOUR in 1st-rd scoring avg, but ranks 181st in 2nd-rd scoring avg.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 18, 2014
ESPN's Bob Harig notes there will be an interesting setup to the tee times at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club:
Looks like two-tee start in 3somes on Saturday. Unheard of at #TheOpen.— Bob Harig (@BobHarig) July 18, 2014
Tiger is in last group. But it's off 10th tee. Tee times from 9 am till 1101 am local time due to expected bad weather. Rory off 1 at 1101— Bob Harig (@BobHarig) July 18, 2014
This is an unprecedented attempt at this tournament, and it will no doubt fuel the conversation surrounding the latter half of golf's oldest major.
Here is a live leaderboard for Day 3 at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, followed by some predictions for the top names remaining in the tournament.
The unpredictable tempests blowing through at Hoylake, England, will temper the predictions for this weekend, as even the altered tee times can't protect the golfers from flurries of gusts or guarantee stillness in the air during long drives off the tee.
There is no reason to think McIlroy won't continue to build upon his strong two days of work and make a run at his third major. It would be quite the historic result, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Since 1st Masters, only players to win 3 majors by age 25 are Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Rory McIlroy trying to become the 3rd. #TheOpen— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 18, 2014
"It's nice to go out and shoot a good one today, so I don't have to be asked about it again," McIlroy said, via USA Today's Steve DiMeglio.
"It's understandable. People ask you. My second rounds this year have been terrible. And there isn't really any explanation."
McIlroy conquered the Friday curses with his typical brand of play, using long drives that allowed him to keep his options open as he set up his approach shots.
McIlroy knocked down seven birdies in the second round and should have no problem doing more of the same on Saturday, as he's ranked seventh in driving distance on the tour and first in birdie averages, per PGATour.com.
Of the players hovering behind McIlroy, Dustin Johnson clearly has the best shot at eight-under and four strokes back of the lead. However, he had to shoot a superhuman 65 on Friday just to get to this position and was absolutely smashing the ball off the tee, per CBS Sports' Kyle Porter:
Rory/Dustin final pairing on Saturday? That's 655 yards combined off the tee on average.— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) July 18, 2014
If Johnson missed out on favorable conditions with his Day 3 tee time, his performances should come back to earth, although he will remain in the top 10 in this tournament.
Six players finished at six-under after two days in the tournament, with Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler looking especially dangerous from that group.
Garcia knocked in a stellar eagle on Day 2 and was able to dig himself out of several holes. CBS Sports' Eye on Golf has the clip of his excellent shot:
Sergio gets to 5 under! https://t.co/cMciDjvJYQ— Eye on Golf (@EyeOnGolf) July 18, 2014
Fowler has shot back-to-back 69s in this tournament, with both rounds featuring two bogeys and five birdies. His professed love of links golf and playing in the wind should see him remain at the top of the leaderboard to threaten McIlroy's dominance.
During the 2014 Scottish Open, Fowler said, via Golf Digest's John Huggan:
I just love links golf, especially hitting shots back into the wind. Downwind is fun, but playing the opposite way is better. You have to hit the ball in the middle of face and control the flight of the ball. That’s not quite the norm on tour.
Look for Fowler to catch Johnson early in the day and continue on with a smooth finish to his third round, wind or no wind.
Tiger Woods should bounce back from his disastrous Day 2 performance, but don't expect to find him anywhere near the top of the leaderboard. Unlike Johnson and McIlroy, Woods had a terrible time utilizing his driver on Friday.
Woods nearly missed the cut after a triple bogey on No. 17 left him three-over par for the tournament. He made it to the weekend with a clutch birdie putt—his first of the day—on the 18th hole.
Via CBS Sports' Kyle Porter, Woods said:
I got off to a terrible start again. I had some opportunities to make some birdies and I just never did. I had myself in good position to make birdies and I just didn't do it.
Woods is keenly aware of his poor driving and shouldn't make as many egregious errors on Day 3. Expect his score to fall closer to his opening-round 69 than the second-round 77.
World No. 1 Adam Scott is sitting at three-under for the tournament after starting off just two shots back of the lead after Day 1.
His performances have been solid considering the weather, but that clearly won't cut it in this tournament. His uber-consistent nature should allow him to get back toward the top of the leaderboard, but not within the top 10.
Who will win the 2014 British Open?
Should the charismatic McIlroy win his third major at such a young age, he might be the consistently strong golfer capable of tournament-wrecking performances—recall his dominant 2011 U.S. Open win— that draws in television audiences.
For a long time now, the PGA Tour has relied on the draw of Woods, but younger players such as McIlroy and Fowler are starting to make waves at nearly every tournament.
Fowler also has some cross-country appeal as he was born in California, attended Oklahoma State University and currently resides in Florida.
A showdown on Sunday between him, McIlroy and perhaps Garcia could draw in a big audience even without Woods' presence near the top of the heap.