Mother Nature wasn't the only one making it rain at the 2014 British Open on Saturday. Moving day brought out the best in Rickie Fowler, who came out of the chute on fire and put a lot of pressure on leader Rory McIlroy early in the round.
Due to the weather forecast in Hoylake, England, the 2014 British Open schedule on Saturday was adjusted to ensure everyone got their round in. While there was no noticeable difference in the way anyone played, the frenetic pace made for great drama.
McIlroy sits alone atop the leaderboard with a six-shot lead, but there's heat from Fowler (10-under par) and Sergio Garcia at nine under par. Nothing is over until the final putt has been recorded, so we shall see if McIlroy can continue his torrid pace on Sunday.
We have a recap of Saturday's action, including a look at the leaderboard, key storylines from Round 3 and highlights.
Rickie Fowler Makes His Move Early
After the first two rounds, McIlroy looked like he was going to run away from the field. He held a four-stroke lead over Dustin Johnson at 12 under par heading into Saturday.
The two-time major champion played a solid round and finished strong with an eagle on the par-five 16th hole, but he left the door cracked open for someone to push him.
Enter Fowler, who has had an excellent year in the majors so far, as ESPN Stats & Info noted on Twitter:
Rickie Fowler: only player to finish in Top 5 of both Masters & U.S. Open this year. He trails Rory McIlroy by 2 strokes @The_Open— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 19, 2014
The 25-year-old American couldn't miss early. He hit four birdies on his first six holes, including one on No. 2 in the video below from PGATour.com. He then hit three straight from No. 10 through 12. A hiccup on 14 cost him a stroke and McIlroy created a lot of distance late, but we saw on Saturday how quickly gaps can close.
Justin Ray of the Golf Channel noted on Twitter that Fowler and McIlroy have a history together, though not one the current leader wants to see repeated:
Rickie Fowler's 2 wins as a pro: 2011 in Korea, Rory finished 2nd. 2012 Wells Fargo, def. Rory in playoff.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) July 19, 2014
ESPN Stats & Info also tried to provide reasons for optimism heading into the final round, noting the last two British Open champions came surging back on Sunday:
Don't count out Rickie Fowler: Past 2 Open champs have trailed by 5+ shots entering final round. Ernie Els trailed by 6 in 2012. #TheOpen— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 19, 2014
The difference in the two events Fowler won and the 2014 British Open is that Fowler held the lead at the Korea Open and was just one shot behind at the Wells Fargo Championship. It's a steeper climb this time around, and McIlroy is striking the ball as well as anyone.
Sergio Garcia Is Lurking
Even though McIlroy is the man right now and Fowler has shown incredible consistency in the biggest events this year, it's hard not to root for Sergio Garcia. The 34-year-old veteran has always been easy fodder for critics because of his tendency to implode on the big stage.
However, Garcia appears to have turned a corner as he's gotten older. He missed the cut at The Masters, but finished 35th at the U.S. Open in June. Now, the Spaniard finds himself one stroke behind Fowler for second place after firing a three-under par 69 on Saturday.
Even if Garcia is unable to win the British Open, Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel made an astute observation about his demeanor on the course:
Sergio Garcia smiling during a weekend round at a major championship? Visions of Medinah in '99.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) July 19, 2014
Steve DiMeglio of USA Today echoed those sentiments in an article on Garcia, in which the veteran was quoted as saying that he's happier as a person and golfer than he's ever been:
Everything is helped by what happens outside the golf course. Things have been much better. I have felt comfortable and I'm trying to do things the right way and take things the right way and not let it bother me as much as it did earlier in my career when things weren't going well.
This event has always been Garcia's favorite major tournament. He's finished in the top 10 seven times here since 2001, easily the most of any major in his career.
Garcia hasn't done anything wrong thus far. He had a bogey on the first hole Saturday but finished with five birdies. The problem is McIlroy has played so well in each round that no one could catch him.
Will There Be Sunday Drama?
If you were watching on Saturday after nine holes, Sunday was shaping up to be one of the best golf days of the year. McIlroy put a damper on that with a strong back nine that included eagles on No. 16, which is in the highlight video from PGATour.com below, and 18 to increase his lead to six strokes over Fowler.
The gap between McIlroy and Fowler is the same as the gap between the four players tied for 19th. You don't want to say that McIlroy can coast on Sunday, but it certainly looks like he won't have to go all-out to capture his first Claret Jug. In fact, Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel thinks McIlroy has things all but wrapped up:
Only thing that can stop Rory McIlroy now is a toothache.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) July 19, 2014
Of course, the writing has been on the wall for McIlroy at Royal Liverpool since the first round. He came out of the chute like a man possessed, shooting a six-under par 66 on Thursday and repeating that performance on Friday.
If you were wondering how dominant McIlroy has been in the past and is looking right now, Justin Ray of the Golf Channel has another key stat for you:
Rory McIlroy won his 1st 2 majors by 8 shots each. Only player in golf history with 3 major wins by 7+ shots is Tiger Woods (with 3).— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) July 19, 2014
The 25-year-old wasn't as sharp on Saturday, "only" shooting a four-under par 68, but he made key shots when it looked like the field was going to catch him. Fowler got to 12-under par after three straight birdies to start the back nine, so McIlroy birdied the 14th and eagled on 16 and 18.
What will happen on Sunday?
Meanwhile, Fowler ran out of gas with three bogeys in a four-hole stretch from No. 14 through 17.
There is precedent for McIlroy to implode in the final round, as everyone knows. He held a four-shot lead after the third round at the 2011 Masters before firing an 80 on Sunday. Given how well he's played this tournament, though, he'll shoot closer to 60 than 80 in the final round.
Much like the 2011 U.S. Open, which McIlroy won by eight strokes, Sunday at Roval Liverpool will simply be an 18-hole coronation ceremony for the 25-year-old. It will also set him up to complete the career Grand Slam next April at Augusta, though that's getting a little ahead of ourselves.
Let's just sit back and enjoy watching the most-talented golfer in the world do what he's done so well all weekend.
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