After brilliant rounds of 66 on Thursday and Friday, McIlroy showed some impressive resilience during his Round 3 performance, fending off a surging Rickie Fowler to take a six-stroke lead into Sunday.
Here's a look at the current leaderboard:
While McIlroy's lead is large, it certainly isn't insurmountable—especially considering the strong winds expected on Day 4 of the tournament. Although, taking the world No. 8 player's Saturday showing into consideration, he won't have issues going forward.
For the second consecutive day, McIlroy began his round with a bogey at the par-four first. For the second consecutive day, he bounced right back.
After a birdie on the par-five fifth, McIlroy parred out to make the turn at even for the day. While this was a solid front nine, it did allow the surging Fowler to gain ground.
Once McIlroy recorded a bogey on on the par-four 12th, Fowler joined him for a share of the lead:
Rory McIlroy drops a stroke on No. 12, his third bogey of the entire tournament. Now tied with Rickie Fowler for the lead at 12-under.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 19, 2014
Fowler began the day six strokes behind McIlroy. That kind of surge to the top could have become a severe detriment in the mind of the leader—especially in a major tournament.
Instead of panicking and collapsing, as many golfers—including McIlroy with a final-round 80 in the 2011 Masters—have done in the past, he not only remained steady but also played the last five holes in four under par.
Following a birdie on No. 14 and a par on the 15th, McIlroy showed nerves of steel, draining this 18-foot putt for eagle on the par-five 16th:
An errant drive led to another bogey on the 17th, but just as he did before, McIlroy bounced back and earned his second eagle in three holes on the 18th after this beautiful approach to eight feet:
We haven't seen this kind of resilient play from McIlroy since he displayed an exuberant amount of prowess back in 2012. With a win on Sunday, it should be safe to say he's finally back in top form.
After all, McIlroy is aiming to join some elite company, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
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
Not only is McIlroy playing like a champion, but he also has the mentality of one as well. He spoke about his mindset during a press conference with the Associated Press, via ESPN.com:
I'm not taking anything for granted. If the guys in front of me had just finished a little better—finished the way I did—then my lead wouldn't have been as much as it was. A lot can happen. And I've been on the right side of it and I've been on the wrong side of it. You can't let yourself think forward. You've just got to completely stay in the moment, and that's what I'm going to try to do for all 18 holes tomorrow.
The scary thing here is the fact McIlroy hasn't even hit his prime yet.
Back in 2000, Tiger Woods wasn't in his prime, and he won the Open Championship at 19 under par—an eight-stroke victory. Interestingly enough, McIlroy is involved in a similar storyline this year:
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
Based on what we've seen out of McIlroy to this point, not only will be emerge victorious on Sunday, but he's also showing no signs of slowing down going forward.