Tuesday 10 December 2019

Fireworks trump thunder at Hoylake

The predicted thunderstorms had failed to materialise, but there were plenty of fireworks in the third round of the 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.

A "significant risk" of thunderstorms and an amber weather warning led the R&A to employ a two-tee start for the first time in championship history on Saturday, with play getting under way at 9am from the first and 10th tee.

The 72 players who made the halfway cut - including Tiger Woods right on the mark of two over par - were also sent out in groups of three rather than two, with defending champion Phil Mickelson alongside past and present US PGA champions Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley in the first match out.

Overnight leader Rory McIlroy, looking to become just the third man in the modern era after Woods and Jack Nicklaus to win three majors by the age of 25, began his third round just after 11am and immediately saw his four-shot advantage cut in half.

The former world number one, who had carded consecutive rounds of 66, found a greenside bunker with his approach to the first and a poor escape led to a bogey five, while playing partner Dustin Johnson holed from three feet for birdie.

With heavy rain having stopped by the time the leaders teed off, Johnson was not the only player to take advantage of the softer greens, fellow American Rickie Fowler picking up four birdies in his first six holes before dropping a shot on the seventh.

McIlroy registered his first birdie of the day by two-putting the par-five fifth to get back to 12 under and crucially saved par from 20 feet on the seventh after finding heavy rough off the tee and only being able to hack out onto the fairway.

At that stage he led by three from Fowler - the only player to finish in the top five in both majors this season - but a thrilling duel between the 2007 Walker Cup rivals was about to develop.

McIlroy saved par on the ninth as well after pulling his tee shot left of the green, where it hit a buggy-mounted camera and bounced off the leg of the cameraman.

After making sure the man was unhurt, the buggy was moved and McIlroy pitched to eight feet and rolled in the putt, but he was unable to birdie the par-five 10th after finding the cavernous bunker short of the green.

In contrast, Fowler made birdie there in the group ahead and holed from 30 feet at the 11th, only for McIlroy to respond from seven feet on the same hole a few minutes later.

Fowler then picked up his seventh birdie of the day, and third in a row, from five feet on the 12th and that was soon good enough for a share of the lead when McIlroy bogeyed the same hole after twice tangling with the heavy rough.

It was Fowler's turn to find trouble off the tee on the 14th and a bogey there dropped him out of the lead, Garcia remaining nine under after missing from two feet for birdie on the 12th.

And McIlroy was suddenly two ahead once more when he holed from 35 feet for an unlikely birdie on the 14th to move to 13 under par.

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