Saturday At The 150th: McIlroy & Hovland Will Duel For The Open
The co-leaders opened up a four-stroke cushion after surviving a scare at the Road hole where a new pin was tried. Plus, Hovland and The Old Course, Quotables and the Sunday forecast.
The Open digs duels.
Watson and Nicklaus at Turnberry remains the gold standard. The 21st century gave us Stenson and Mickelson at Troon, followed by Spieth and Kuchar at Birkdale.
But two-man combat over the Old Course at St Andrews? Not so much.
The Opens here almost always fall into two categories: a legend smokes the field or we get chaos bordering on insanity decided by a playoff. So please, historians, spare me your Dick Burton v. Johnny Bulla in ‘39 or Rowland Jones trying to slay the legendary James Braid in 1905, coincidentally the same year University Hall last bought mattresses. But that duel 117 years ago wasn’t reallty close, even when Elie’s five-time winner twice drove onto the railroad tracks down the stretch and still cruised to a five-stroke win.
How about third-round co-leaders Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland?
The 150th Open became a two-man race Saturday out at the raucous Loop. The two waited for an eternity on the par-3 8th while the usual crazy stuff happened at the joint 7th and 11th greens. Eventually McIlroy drove and birdied the defenseless 9th and then dunked a bunker shot for eagle 2 at the 10th. Hovland kept a share of the lead with a birdie putt. The antics were made all the more spectacular given that the R&A put the cup atop a volcano. Rory kindly described it as a “crown.” He’s nice that way.
The crowd willed McIlroy’s Taylormade in before the ball hit fescue. Even Masters winner Scottie Scheffler, who backed off his tee shot at the 11th to wait out the huge grandstand roar, had to applaud.
The 24-year-old Hovland will face a crowd bias Sunday, but if round three was any indication he won’t be phased. Saturday’s compatible pairing worked wonders for both players during a sluggish day when afternoon twosomes took four-and-half-hours to get around.
The two European Ryder Cup buddies made small talk on tees and even while crossing Swilcan bridge. At various points the two discussed footwear. Or how Viktor went home to Norway. And how he’s going back there after The Open. Frost-Nixon it was not.
“Rory and Harry [Diamond] are good guys, and we chatted it up a little bit,” Hovland said. “So it was a good mix.”
Sunday should be just as grand. Good pairings breed good golf.
They walk at the same pace. They play fast if given the chance. And the two gym rats are not threatened by the other’s formidable biceps.
The Duel Of The Guns?
I’d throw a “Young” in there but Rory’s 33 and greying from holding down two jobs these days. He carries extra weight as golf’s de factor elder statesman whenever Tiger is not around. So a final pairing at the Old Course is child’s play compared to another Zoom with the PGA Tour Policy Board.
McIlroy and Hovland will head out at 2:50 pm BST four clear of the Camerons (Smith and Young). They are five strokes ahead of Si Woo Kim and Scottie Scheffler. McIlroy is trying to soak up the scene without losing focus.
“Walking up 18 and that whole scene and I tried to look for my parents and Erica and Poppy in the windows of the Rusacks, because I know what rooms we're staying in,” he said.
Hovland did some wondering too.
“I was thinking what the hell am I doing here?” he said, flashing his killer smile after Saturday’s 66. “Just to be here is very special, but to have a chance to win one is -- yeah, I have to pinch myself, but that doesn't mean I'm going to hold back tomorrow.”
Round three by the numbers:
68-66-66. Co-leader Viktor Hovland’s scores.
66-68-66. Co-leader Rory McIlroy’s scores.
71.337: Round 3 scoring average.
Low round: 65 by Kevin Kisner
High round: 79 by Sam Bairstow (a)
Four. The number of playoff holes should one be necessary. 1-2-17-18.
Greens. Double cut at 3.5mm. Speed is 10.6 on the Stimpmeter, up 3 inches from yesterday.
Firmness. 153 gravities -6 gravities less firm than yesterday morning