The 2014 British Open has come down to this. We have already seen something special from Rory McIlroy through three rounds, putting up back-to-back-to-back scores in the 60s and carrying a six-stroke lead into the final round.
If McIlroy can duplicate his Saturday score of 68 in the final round, he will set a new British Open record for the lowest score under par at -20. Tiger Woods currently holds the record when he shot 19 under par at St. Andrews in 2000.
Really, all the storylines for Sunday revolve around McIlroy's pursuit of the Claret Jug. It didn't seem like that would be the case early in the third round, when Rickie Fowler tied the 25-year-old at 12 under par, but the two-time Major winner turned his game up on the back nine with eagles on No. 16 and 18.
We will take a look at McIlroy's pursuit of immortality, as well as look at updated odds and storylines for the final round at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
|Rory McIlroy (-16)||1-10|
|Rickie Fowler (-10)||15-1|
|Sergio Garcia (-9)||25-1|
|Dustin Johnson (-9)||25-1|
Rory's Pursuit of History
The funny thing about a historic performance is you never realize you are watching it until after it has happened. You might think about it, like Peyton Manning throwing seven touchdowns in a game, but it never clicks in your brain until much later.
What makes golf so unique is there's time to think about the potential for history in between rounds. It's not enough that McIlroy is on the verge of winning the British Open for the first time in his career; the 25-year-old superstar can set multiple records along the way.
In addition to the already-mentioned low score under par, McIlroy has a chance to break Greg Norman's four-round score of 267 if he shoots a 66 on Sunday. He's already hit that number twice this week, on Thursday and Friday.
ESPN Stats & Info also noted on Twitter that McIlroy can join some historic company by winning his third major at the age of 25:
If Rory McIlroy (25 yrs) wins @The_Open, he will be 3rd youngest to win 3 majors in Masters Era (since '34) - Nicklaus (23), Woods (24)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 19, 2014
McIlroy's six-shot lead isn't insurmountable, at least on paper. Last year, for instance, we saw Phil Mickelson win this event from five shots back and Ernie Els was six shots back, like Rickie Fowler is now, in 2012.
Recent history suggests that being in the lead after 54 holes isn't a good position, but McIlroy hasn't batted an eye this week when things have started to get rough. Fowler actually pulled into a tie with McIlroy at 12 under par through 12 holes, but McIlroy finished four-under on the final six holes to get breathing room.
Rory McIlroy's dad has a lot riding on this win, too. In addition to cheering on his son, Andrew Cotter of BBC learned that Gerry McIlroy made a bet nearly 10 years ago at 500-1 odds that his son would win the Claret Jug before turning 26.
So just to confirm - 10 yrs ago Gerry McIlroy & three friends put £400 at 500-1 on 15 year-old Rory to win The Open before he turned 26.— Andrew Cotter (@MrAndrewCotter) July 19, 2014
Yes, it was by the age of 25. So I asked the man himself. This year still counts.— Andrew Cotter (@MrAndrewCotter) July 19, 2014
Just when you thought life couldn't get any better for the McIlroy family, something like that has to come out. I imagine the money coming in on Roger Federer's kids to win Wimbledon someday spiked in the last 24 hours.
Is There a Challenger In the Field?
It would be easy to sit here and wax rhapsodic about McIlroy, but that has to get boring after a while, right?
Assuming things hold, which performance will you remember more?
Well, in an effort to keep things spicy, we can talk about the players behind McIlroy and how good their chances are to at least make things interesting on Sunday.
Fowler is the obvious choice to make a run. He put the pressure on McIlroy early in round three, shooting six under par through the first 12 holes, and finishing with a very strong 68 on Saturday.
Unfortunately for Fowler, there are 18 holes in a round of golf. He scuffled on the final five holes, hitting three bogeys on 14, 16 and 17, but he was able to salvage a birdie on 18.
Justin Ray of the Golf Channel did point out on Twitter that Fowler and McIlroy have history when it comes to close calls in events:
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
However, if we operate under the assumption that McIlroy will shoot under 70, which he has done in the first three rounds, that means Fowler will have to fire at least a nine under par 63 to force a playoff.
For perspective, the lowest round of the tournament so far is a 65 from Dustin Johnson in the second round.
The real battle on Sunday will come down to the runner-up. Fowler is sitting in that spot now, but Johnson and Sergio Garcia are tied at nine under par and seven other players at six under par or better.
For Garcia, who has played well all year, this will be yet another disappointing Grand Slam event. It's not his fault that McIlroy has been so dominant all week, but this will likely be the Spaniard's eighth time finishing in the top 10 at the British Open without a win.
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