Rory McIlroy moved to the top of the British Open third round leaderboard alongside Viktor Hovland on Saturday, carried there by a roaring crowd and a spectacular eagle from one of the Old Course’s infamous pot bunkers.
The betting favourite coming into the 150th Open, McIlroy was also the clear crowd choice as he was cheered around the ancient layout from the first hole to the last.
Northern Ireland’s McIlroy and Norwegian Hovland both birdied the 18th for six-under 66s and have a four-shot lead over the field going into Sunday’s final round.
Three back of front-running Australian Cameron Smith, McIlroy got his day off to an ordinary start by carding four consecutive pars.
But with the galleries urging him on, the world number two found another gear to pick up his first birdies at five and six before conjuring up a bit of magic at the 10th.
With a tee shot landing in the middle of a bunker guarding the 10th green most golfers would have been happy to escape with par but McIlroy produced a hole out eagle, triggering a massive roar that rolled across the ancient links.
“I was just trying to get it somewhat close,” admitted McIlroy. “Anything inside 10 feet I felt was going to be a really good shot.
“It was skill to get it somewhere close, but it was luck that it went in the hole.
“You need a little bit of luck every now and again, especially in these big tournaments and that was a nice bonus.”
How good was the shot?
It was the kind that even Hovland had to stand back and applaud.
“What a wild two on that hole,” said Hovland. “I was glad I was able to make mine for birdie.
“But when things like that happen, you just kind of have to give each other a fist bump and say good shot.”
There will certainly be no cheering from the Norwegian on Sunday but it will not be needed by McIlroy who has had the crowd in his corner all week.
With two wins this season and top 10 finishes in all three majors, McIlroy was the favourite coming into St Andrews and will be on the final day as he bids to end an eight-year majors drought with a second Claret Jug.
The winner of four career majors, including the 2014 Open, McIlroy said he knows exactly what to do.
“I finished off enough golf tournaments in my time to feel like I know what to do tomorrow,” he said. “I just have to stick to my game plan.
“The support that I’ve got this week has been absolutely incredible. I appreciate it and I feel it out there.
“I try to acknowledge as much as I can but I’m just trying to stay in my own little bubble and I just have to do that for one more day.”
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