The third round of the 2014 British Open was much of the same with Rory McIlroy roaring his way through the course at Royal Liverpool to lead heading into the final day.
The Northern Irish player is currently 16 under and paces the field by a full six shots. After cruising to the lead on Friday, McIlroy expanded on it by closing out the round strong and finishing with a four-under 68.
Saturday was actually McIlroy's worst round of the tournament, but that comes after two consecutive days of six shots under par. With the weather clearly not affecting his game, McIlroy has a chance to clinch his third major and first Open title.
Despite his success at Hoylake through three rounds, McIlroy knows just how crucial Sunday will be, per the PGA Tour account:
In order to make Sunday a memorable one, he will have to hold off the likes of Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson. With all three players in the final two groups on Sunday, fans in the United States can bear witness to golf history without waking up before 5 a.m.
Before the world's best look to master Hoylake yet again, here's a look at the leaderboard and pairings for the final round of play, per TheOpen.com.
|Group||Players||Start Time (ET)|
|1||Charley Hoffman; Billy Hurley III||3:35 a.m.|
|2||Ryan Palmer; Jamie McLeary||3:45 a.m.|
|3||Tom Watson; John Senden||3:55 a.m.|
|4||Brendan Todd; Jason Day||4:05 a.m.|
|5||Koumei Oda; Rhein Gibson||4:15 a.m.|
|6||Brooks Koepka; Thorbjorn Olesen||4:25 a.m.|
|7||Stewart Cink; Matt Every||4:35 a.m.|
|8||Tiger Woods; Jason Dufner||4:45 a.m.|
|9||Gregory Bourdy; Matt Kuchar||5 a.m.|
|10||Chris Wood; Paul Casey||5:10 a.m.|
|11||Henrik Stenson; Thomas Bjorn||5:20 a.m.|
|12||Chris Rodgers; Martin Kaymer||5:30 a.m.|
|13||Matt Jones; Brandt Snedeker||5:40 a.m.|
|14||Zach Johnson; Luke Donald||5:50 a.m.|
|15||Hideki Matsuyama; D.A. Points||6 a.m.|
|16||Gary Woodland; Thongchai Jaidee||6:10 a.m.|
|17||Hunter Mahan; Kevin Stadler||6:25 a.m.|
|18||Kevin Na; Bill Haas||6:35 a.m.|
|19||Phil Mickelson; Angel Cabrera||6:45 a.m.|
|20||Kevin Streelman; Louis Oosthuizen||6:55 a.m.|
|21||David Hearn; Ben Martin||7:05 a.m.|
|22||Francesco Molinari; George Coetzee||7:15 a.m.|
|23||Shane Lowry; Kristoffer Broberg||7:25 a.m.|
|24||Keegan Bradley; Chris Kirk||7:35 a.m.|
|25||Brian Harman; Jordan Spieth||7:50 a.m.|
|26||David Howell; Stephen Gallacher||8 a.m.|
|27||Byeong-Hun An; Branden Grace||8:10 a.m.|
|28||Ryan Moore; Marc Warren||8:20 a.m.|
|29||Jimmy Walker; Marc Leishman||8:30 a.m.|
|30||Justin Rose; Graeme McDowell||8:40 a.m.|
|31||Darren Clarke; Charl Schwartzel||8:50 a.m.|
|32||Jim Furyk; Robert Karlsson||9 a.m.|
|33||Adam Scott; Matteo Manassero||9:10 a.m.|
|34||Edoardo Molinari; Victor Dubusson||9:20 a.m.|
|35||Dustin Johnson; Sergio Garcia||9:30 a.m.|
|36||Rickie Fowler; Rory McIlroy||9:40 a.m.|
Rory McIlroy Will Hoist First Claret Jug
With a charging field behind him and the eyes of the golf world upon him, McIlroy will have plenty of pressure on his shoulders yet again. Following a staggering finish on Saturday, the 25-year-old has proved he can handle that pressure.
Just how masterful has McIlroy been so far? The Open's official account notes just how historically great he's played:
He's also gunning for more history on Sunday, as Justin Ray of the Golf Channel points out:
If Rory McIlroy shoots 68 or better tomorrow, he becomes 1st player in major championship history to finish 20-under par or better.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) July 19, 2014
McIlroy has won his last two major tournaments after holding a lead through 54 holes. While many remember the 2011 Masters meltdown, he shot under par in the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship to take both titles.
One of the ways he'll retain his lead will be through continuing to blister par fives. McIlroy's biggest shot of the day came near the end on a par five, as the PGA Tour account notes:
Expect more of the same from McIlroy as he continues to rout the field and take his first British Open title on Sunday.
Prediction: McIlroy shoots 67 to clinch title.
Rickie Fowler Contends, Falls Short of Open Title
For fans who are in any way surprised by the fact that Fowler is in contention heading into the final round, just know this: His game has come a long way.
Fowler used to be known simply for his flashy style and youth but has shined this season in major tournaments. After finishing in the top five in both the Masters and U.S. Open, Fowler is in a familiar place heading into Sunday at Hoylake.
As for his chances during the final round, ESPN Stats & Info provides some background on the last two winners:
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
Sure, he'll still likely wear some type of highlighter outfit and shock the crowd, but Fowler will also surprise some with his game. On the heels of yet another strong round leading up to the final day of a major, the 25-year-old will meet a similar fate from the U.S. Open by finishing second.
Prediction: Fowler finishes with 68 and tied for second.
Tiger Woods Finishes at Even Par
Out of 36 pairings on the final day, Tiger Woods tees off in the eighth.
After a steady start to the British Open, Woods has fallen well off the pace and has no chance of recovering to contend for a win. The 14-time major winner spoke about his struggles so far, per The Open's account:
Tiger, 19 shots back: "I've made too many mistakes. You can't run up scores this high and expect to contend." pic.twitter.com/Ku7qtpa5pj— The Open (@The_Open) July 19, 2014
Not only does the loss continue his stall at 14 majors, but it also puts him behind Jack Nicklaus' pace. Years of struggling to claim another title on the big stage have finally caught up if he fails to hoist the Claret Jug at the age of 38, something Nicklaus did to claim his 15th major.
While it won't be a victory or truly help heal the wounds of another rough showing, Woods will recover to finish at even par on Sunday. With a slim bit of confidence after the tournament, Woods has to hope he can contend at the PGA Championship later this year.
Prediction: Woods recovers by shooting three under on Sunday.
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