McIlroy teases rivals for Open, then storms clear

Sat Jul 19, 2014 2:16pm EDT
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By Martyn Herman

HOYLAKE England (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy left the door invitingly ajar for a charging pack led by Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia before slamming it shut with a dazzling finish on Saturday to lead the Open by six strokes with one round left.

The Northern Irishman began the day four shots clear of Dustin Johnson, was reeled in by inspired American Fowler after 12 holes, but magnificent eagles at the 16th and 18th saw him disappear over the horizon with a 16-under-par total of 200 at a rain-soaked Royal Liverpool course.

It is 50 years since a player went into the fourth round of the Open with a bigger lead, on that occasion Tony Lema taking a seven-stroke advantage into Sunday at St Andrews in 1964.

Yet for much of the third round on a links course softened to perfection by stormy weather, McIlroy seemed in real danger of missing out on his fair share of the birdie feast which allowed 17 players to shoot sub-70 rounds and 35 to break par.

After 13 holes he was level par for the day and, with dark clouds brewing overhead, Fowler was breathing down his neck.

He responded with an incredible 3-3-3-3-5-3 climax to move clear and only an extraordinary turnaround on Sunday can prevent him completing a first Open triumph to add to the U.S. Open and U.S PGA titles he won in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

"I was conscious that Rickie was getting a little closer or Sergio or whoever it was," McIlroy, who would break three-times winner Tiger Woods's Open record of 19 under (set in 2000) with a round 68 or lower on Sunday, told reporters.

"But it was nice to be able to come up with the goods when I needed them the last few holes."   Continued...

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts after making his eagle putt on the 18th green during the third round of the British Open Championship at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, northern England July 19, 2014.   REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth