There is Rory McIlroy at the 2014 British Open, and then there's everybody else.
The Northern Irishman has a six-stroke lead heading into the final round at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club. He has scored rounds of 66, 66 and 68 to get to this esteemed vantage point, and there are but a few names who can challenge his position atop the leaderboard with just 18 holes remaining.
Here is the live leaderboard for Day 4 in Hoylake, England, followed by overall predictions for the major players in the tournament.
Predictions by Nate Loop
McIlroy should be able to fend off the field and win the 2014 British Open. If he can golf like he did in the first two rounds of the tournament and lower his score by at least three strokes, he could very well be in for a historic victory, as noted by ESPN Stats & Info:
Rory McIlroy is 16-under par after 3 rounds at #TheOpen. The record for a major is 19-under by Tiger Woods (2000 Open Championship).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 19, 2014
When McIlroy is on his game, he can put up low scores in many different ways. The 2014 British Open has been a prime example of that, and he will continue his excellent play on Sunday.
The first two days of his tournament play were marked by excellent calm and consistency, as well as scores of blistering drives off the tee. CBS Sports' Kyle Porter noted the distance of his drives on Friday:
Rory goes out in 33 to get to 8 under. He's averaging 346.3 yards off the tee. LOL.— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) July 18, 2014
He wasn't quite as sound on Saturday, but he showed off his clutch genes with eagles on holes No. 16 and No. 18 to re-open the gap at the top of the leaderboard that Rickie Fowler had worked so hard to close. McIlroy started approximately 10 minutes after Fowler and surely knew his opponent was closing in, but he never let those thoughts materialize into a nagging constant that would affect his play.
"I never panicked,” McIlroy said, via Golf.com's Coleman McDowell. “I didn't feel uncomfortable. I knew that I had some holes coming up that I could take advantage of and make some birdies on the way in. As I said, I was just very patient today and just waited for my chance."
Speaking of the young American, Fowler should be able to fend off challenges from Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson and hold on to second place in this tournament. He's a fan of playing links golf, and the variable weather conditions have done little to affect his game in this tournament.
He's proved that he can become a fixture in top tournaments this year with his fifth-place finish in the 2014 Masters tournament a season highlight. Fowler has missed the cut seven times in 2014, but he's put up some excellent scores in major tournaments, as ESPN Stats & Info points out:
Lowest combined score to par in majors this year: - Rickie Fowler (-13) - Rory McIlroy (-10)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 19, 2014
Fowler's tour stats in 2014 aren't remarkable thanks to the aforementioned tournament duds on his record. He is middling in some of the major categories, with a 45th-ranked driving distance and 79th-ranked birdie average, per PGATour.com.
However, it is his mental fortitude and ability to play well in the biggest tournaments that is truly setting him apart from some of the other young golfers on the tour.
Expect him to continue to use that drive and skill to push McIlroy to the brink, but eventually fall short.
Which player will win the 2014 British Open?
As for third place, look for Garcia to hold off Johnson and take his spot behind Fowler and McIlroy. Both Garcia and Johnson are tied at nine under after 54 holes, but Johnson has hit two rounds of 71 in this tournament and his second-round score of 65 came in some of the more favorable conditions seen at this tournament.
Garcia is still capable of maddening inconsistency at time, such as in the second round when he went bogey, eagle and then bogey again on three consecutive holes. However, his ability to pull out the big shots when they count should help him hold off Johnson, Victor Dubuisson (eight under) and Edoardo Molinari (seven under).
Look for Adam Scott to make a surge up the table. He played his best round of golf in the back nine on Saturday, notching five birdies. A double bogey on hole No. 9 did mitigate his score, but he should be able to make a similar leap if given favorable enough conditions on Sunday.