The final round of the 2014 British Open will do one of two things: Cement Rory McIlroy's status as golf's brightest young star or feature an epic collapse from the Northern Irishman that provides only a brief spike of drama and intrigue.
McIlroy's dominance hasn't quite reached the levels of Martin Kaymer's runaway victory at this year's U.S. Open, but it is certainly an impressive display of golf that should have fans excited about a young crossover star that can worm his way into the forefront of the sport's discussion the way Tiger Woods once did (while still winning major tournaments).
In case a star is born in Hoylake, England, here are the tee times and pairings for Sunday's 18-hole finale.
|2014 British Open: Notable Day 4 Tee Times, Pairings|
|Tom Watson, John Senden||3:55 a.m.|
|Tiger Woods, Jason Dufner||4:45 a.m.|
|Phil Mickelson, Angel Cabrera||6:45 a.m.|
|Louis Oosthuizen, Kevin Streelman||6:55 a.m.|
|Jordan Spieth, Brian Harman||7:50 a.m.|
|Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose||8:40 a.m.|
|Jim Furyk, Robert Karlsson||9:00 a.m.|
|Adam Scott, Matteo Mannasero||9:10 a.m.|
|Victor Dubuisson, Edoardo Molinari||9:20 a.m.|
|Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson||9:30 a.m.|
|Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler||9:40 a.m.|
Can Rory McIlroy Hold Off Rickie Fowler?
These top two golfers could be tussling in majors for quite some time, so it will be interesting to see how they compete with each other as the final pairing on Sunday. McIlroy proved in the third round that he is capable of some very clutch golf, which could pose a problem for Rickie Fowler.
At the end of the round, McIlroy sank two eagles to punch his lead back up to six shots over the surging Fowler.
The latter has been chasing the Northern Irishman throughout the tournament, and it will likely take a drop-off from McIlroy, combined with Fowler coming up with some excellent approach play, to create any sort of drama in the final round.
As ESPN Stats & Info points out, these two have been the top golfers in majors this year:
McIlroy is on the verge of winning his third major in four years, all before turning 26 years old. Fowler has been all over the recent major tournaments, tying for fifth place at the 2014 Masters and placing second in the 2014 U.S. Open.
That being said, the 25-year-old American needs to work on his consistency and clean up certain areas of his game. He's ranked 126th on the tour in driving accuracy and 144th in strokes gained from putting, per PGATour.com.
Should he take care of those abilities, he has a great chance of setting up a classic rivalry with McIlroy.
Will Sergio Garcia Be Consistent In the Final Round?
Sergio Garcia is at nine under for the tournament, one stroke back of Fowler and tied with Dustin Johnson. The 34-year-old tour veteran should be in this lofty position at major tournaments more often, but his erratic play has cost him at times.
Garcia missed the cut at the 2014 Masters tournament after a two-round score of 149 sent him packing early. He then placed third at the Players Championship but immediately followed it up with a 35th-place finish at the U.S. Open.
In this tournament, Garcia showed off his ability to regain focus as quickly as he loses it. He sandwiched an eagle between two bogeys to start off his second round. Rare is the conventionally pretty scorecard for Garcia. The PGA Tour shows off the highlights from his eagle at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club:
Everything is helped by what happens outside the golf course. Things have been much better. I have felt comfortable and I'm trying to do things the right way and take things the right way and not let it bother me as much as it did earlier in my career when things weren't going well.
Garcia is still looking to capture his first major, but his best golf won't be enough to catch McIlroy or Fowler in this tournament.
Can Tiger Woods Come Up With a Respectable Finish?
It was only Thursday when the golfing world wondered if the Woods of old had finally made an appearance at a major tournament. The 14-time major winner was three-under after the first round and just three strokes back of the lead.
However, a disastrous score of 77 on Day 2—which required him to birdie the 18th hole just to make the cut—and a pedestrian 73 on Day 3 has him firmly entrenched at the back of the pack.
This is a different version of Woods, no doubt. He's struggled driving the ball in this tournament and is aware that he has made a multitude of mistakes.
"I’m starting to get the flow of the round, the flow of playing again,” said Woods, via Golf Week's Jeff Rude. “But still I’ve just made too many mistakes. You can’t run up high scores like that and expect to contend, especially when the conditions are this benign.”
Fox Sports' Ben Maller somewhat derisively noted that Woods hasn't been a weekend warrior for quite some time:
Woods' long layoff from back surgery has left him with plenty of work to do in terms of catching up with top competitors of golf; having another weekend round without any championship pressure might do him more good in the long run as he works out the kinks in his game.