HOYLAKE, England — The Open is closed. One moment we had a golf tournament. The next we had a rout. For Rory McIlroy, the next walk across the links of Royal Liverpool will be a coronation march.
Six shots in six holes. McIlroy was tied with Rickie Fowler at the 13th tee Saturday in the third round. After the 18th green he was six shots in front.
That’s not a finish; that’s a flourish. That’s a kid with the face of a baby but the heart of a champion.
“I was patient,” said McIlroy. “I just waited for my chance, for my time when I was able to make some shots and convert those. I was conscious of it.”
Who wouldn’t be? Look at the way he closed, the way the greats do in any sport. He stepped on the opponent’s throat, figuratively speaking, and never let up. Wham, bam.
Tied after 12 and then, in order, a par three at 13, a birdie three at 14, a par three at 15, an eagle three at 16, a bogey five at 17 and an eagle three at 18.
Threes on five of the final six holes, eagles on two of the final three. A knockout blow. A six-shot margin with only 18 holes to play.
“It’s difficult to see anybody catching him when he’s playing like that,” said Sergio Garcia, who’s in a very distant third at seven strokes back.
Here are the other top golfers, Garcia, Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott, Jim Furyk, Charl Schwartzel; here is this historic course alongside the River Dee, all helpless in McIlroy’s presence and power.
“Maybe I can put some pressure on him,” said Fowler, who will be paired with good friend McIlroy in Sunday’s final round but was in the group ahead of him Saturday.
“Because he’s definitively in control of the golf tournament now.”
Definitely. Unquestionably. Absolutely.
Six-shot leads the final day in majors have been squandered before. Greg Norman did it at the Masters in 1996. But 25-year-old Rory McIlroy isn’t Norman. If you want to compare him to anyone, it would be Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus.
At their best they were relentless. McIlroy is too when he's in top form. He’s already won two majors, the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship, and both in blowouts. This 143rd Open is looking very much the same.
Nothing fazes McIlroy. He hits the ball a mile. He understands the nuances of golf. He never lets up. And when one part of his game is a bit off, he compensates with another part. Those are attributes of a golfing winner.
“The putter definitively saved me today,” he said. “Even as early as the second hole. I made a good par save there. And then from the fifth onward I really putted nicely.”
But you don’t reach par fives in two, as McIlroy did on 16, which is 577 yards, and 18, 551 yards, where he produced his death blows, grabbing four strokes against par in a matter of minutes. The roars rattled the old brick clubhouse and maybe the rest of the players.
You’re thinking, “Hey, I’m still in it,” and then you’re out of it.
“When Rory plays well,” said Garcia, “every course suits him. He hits it quite straight. He hits it long. He putts well. When somebody plays like that, there’s nothing you can do. He deserves it.”
Golf is a game of fatalists. You can’t go into a zone defense, can’t throw four wide ones to the home run hitter. You can just accept reality, which is Rory McIlroy stomping all over the oldest tournament in golf.
“If the guys in front of me had finished a little better, finished the way I did,” said a charitable McIlroy, “my lead wouldn’t have been as big as it was.”
Right. And if money grew on trees, we wouldn’t need to work.
No questions about McIlroy, however. He did what was needed.
“I think whenever you have such a big lead, you really can’t think about anyone else but yourself, keep yourself in the present." McIlroy said. "I’ll go home, go to the gym, have some dinner and watch a movie, get a good night’s sleep, in the morning do a light workout again in the gym and come out ready to play.
“You can’t let yourself think about winning or whatever it is. You’ve just got to completely stay in the moment, and that’s what I’m going to do for all 18 holes (Sunday).”
Why not? It’s worked beautifully so far, which is why Rory McIlroy has a sizable lead. He’s something special.
Art Spander, winner of the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism from the PGA of America, has covered over 150 major golf championships. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.