Rory McIlroy is on the brink of his third major championship after another brilliant performance in Round 3 of the 2014 British Open.
The superstar had a bit of a slow start on Saturday, losing what had been a four-stroke lead coming into the day. However, he turned things around late with two eagles on his final three holes to once again pull away.
Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia and others remain in contention to take over the lead, but this event is now McIlroy's to lose heading into the fourth round at Royal Liverpool. Here is a look at the latest standings with a breakdown of the top contenders through 54 holes.
For the second day in a row, McIlroy bogeyed the first hole. He then followed that up with some poor shots where he was lucky to just save par. At this point, it was no surprise Fowler was able to catch him during his round.
However, McIlroy was able to turn things around with a birdie on No. 14, followed by an impressive eagle on No. 16:
This put him up five strokes, a mark that was improved when he was able to get yet another eagle on the 18th and final hole. As Will Brinson of CBS Sports notes, this continues an incredible run on the back nine in this tournament:
Rory McIlroy eagles 18, now a whopping 11 under on 27 back-nine holes at #TheOpen— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) July 19, 2014
If McIlroy cannot turn this lead into a victory, it would have to be a collapse of epic proportions, as noted by Justin Ray of Golf Channel:
Largest 54-hole lead lost in major championship history is 6 shots, done only once, Greg Norman at 1996 Masters.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) July 19, 2014
Still, the 25-year-old golfer is confident heading into the final round. He spoke to ESPN's Tom Rinaldi about handling the pressure on Sunday. He explained, "It's just about trying to control yourself and control your emotions. It's a huge day in my career and I feel like I'm up to the task," via Kyle Porter of CBS Sports.
McIlroy has two dominant victories at majors in his career, winning the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship by eight strokes each. Based on the way he has performed at Hoylake, it would not be a surprise to see him add another massive victory to his resume.
There was a point on Saturday where it appeared Fowler would legitimately challenge for the British Open title. Unfortunately, this moment was fleeting.
The American got off to a great start with four birdies in his first six holes. When he started to go on another run of birdies on the back nine, Jay Coffin of Golf Channel was one of many people excited about the competition:
Slick Rick Fowler makes birdie at No. 11 and is within a shot of leader Rory McIlroy. Gettin' juicy. #TheOpen— Jay Coffin (@JayCoffinGC) July 19, 2014
Fowler ended up pulling even with McIlroy after getting a birdie on No. 12, but this tie did not last as long as he likely hoped. Bogeys on holes 14, 16 and 17 took him off the lead and possibly too far back to make a run.
The good news is that he was at least able to finish strong with a birdie on No. 18, thanks to this impressive bunker shot:
ESPN Stats and Info points out that a comeback is not out of the question based on recent history:
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
However, the problem for Fowler is consistency. He can post a lot of birdies, but he has to find a way to avoid bogeys if he wants to truly be in contention for his first career major.
A man who used to be known for his collapses has done a good job of keeping it together in this tournament.
After a bogey on the first hole, Garcia turned things around with four birdies on the front nine and got as low as 10-under before settling with a 69. This puts him seven strokes off the lead but just one behind Fowler for second place.
As Golf World points out, he was really excited during his high points:
Loving the the Sergio Garcia fist pumps. He looks really up for this. #TheOpen— Golf World (@GolfWorld1) July 19, 2014
The important thing is that he did not collapse when he did struggle. Before the tournament, Garcia explained how he is able to remain steady, via Steve DiMeglio of USA Today:
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. We get older and we learn from mistakes, and I've made my share but I think I've learned from them.
If Garcia can avoid a poor showing on Sunday, he should at least be able to leave with yet another top five at a major.
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