Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland avoid blunders to grab share of British Open lead

They chatted, they chuckled and they gradually pulled away from the field Saturday in the third round of the British Open.

Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland, good friends in the second-to-last group, shot identical scores of 66 at the Old Course to share a commanding four-shot lead at 16 under par heading into Sunday’s final round.

At one point, while waiting to hit, they had a pleasant chat that completely belied the magnitude of the moment.

“We talked about a whole bunch of stuff,” McIlroy said. “Talked about footwear. Talked about what he did the last couple of weeks. He went back home to Norway. He’s going back to Norway after this. Just kept it nice and loose.”

That was reflected in their play. They were as breezy as the light winds blowing through the birthplace of golf.

“I think we were obviously both kind of doing our own thing,” said Hovland, who ESPN noted is the first player from Norway to lead any round of a major championship. “But as we saw, it was still pretty slow out there, and we had to wait on a lot of tee boxes. … We chatted it up a little bit.”

Whereas Hovland’s best finishes at a major were ties for 12th at the U.S. Open in 2019 and last year’s British Open, McIlroy is considerably more experienced. He won four majors early in his career, but he hasn’t done so since 2014 — a span of 29 majors without that elusive fifth win.

“I’ve got myself in a great position after three days,” McIlroy said. “I finished off enough golf tournaments in my time to feel like I know what to do tomorrow.”

Viktor Hovland plays from the 18th tee during the third round of the British Open at St Andrews on Saturday.

(Peter Morrison / Associated Press)

A pivotal point for McIlroy came on the par-four 10th, when he holed out for eagle from a greenside bunker. The crowd erupted and he shot his arm into the air to acknowledge the gallery.

“The support that I’ve gotten this week has been absolutely incredible,” said McIlroy, 33, of Northern Ireland. “I appreciate it and I feel it out there. But at the same time I’m trying my hardest just to stay in my own little world because that’s the best way for me to get the best out of myself.”

The two Camerons atop the leaderboard after Friday couldn’t quite keep pace. Cameron Smith, who had been the solo leader, shot a one-over 73 that included a double bogey on 13. Cameron Young, who began the day two strokes behind Smith, double bogeyed 16.

It would take a meltdown at the top for a major winner such as Scottie Scheffler (minus-11), Dustin Johnson (minus-10), Matthew Fitzpatrick (minus-9) or Jordan Spieth (minus-8) to move into contention. But that’s far from out of the question at the Old Course, where fickle winds and weather can cause fortunes to shift in an instant.

“I hit a lot of good putts out there — they’re just dodging the cup,” said Scheffler, who won this year’s Masters and was a runner-up at the U.S. Open. “Never know what can happen.”

Shane Lowry had back-to-back eagles but faded with three bogeys on the back nine.

“It was a very emotional day,” he said. “I felt like through the middle of the front nine I was just going along OK, not doing anything great. Obviously 9 and 10 happened and I felt like I was in the tournament. And did well to play my way out of the tournament from there.”

McIlroy said his goal Sunday is to focus on himself.

“If I go out and I post a good number, I can’t worry about if it’s Viktor or if it’s the two Camerons, if it’s whoever it is,” he said. “I just have to do my thing. And I’ve been doing my thing for the last three days and it’s put me in a good position.”

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