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2022 British Open: Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland separate from the field except for each other

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy said winning the 150th British Open would be his Holy Grail. He’s 18 holes away from making history with his fifth major win and ending a nearly eight-year drought at the major championships.

But first, he will have to separate from Viktor Hovland, who is attempting to become the first Norwegian to win a major. Paired together in the third round, they shot matching rounds of 66 at the Old Course to share the 54-hole lead at 16-under 200.

“Yeah, that was pretty cool,” Hovland said of the back-and-forth battle for the lead between him and McIlroy. “Probably not going to forget that one too quickly. No, I played great, but it was also cool to trade some holes with Rory as well.”

McIlroy poured in five birdies, a lone bogey and a one-in-500 hole-out eagle at No. 10.

“It was skill to get it somewhere close, but it was luck that it went in the hole,” McIlroy said. “You need a little bit of luck every now and again, especially in these big tournaments. And that was a nice bonus.”

The 33-year-old McIlroy broke the birdie seal with a pair of circles on the card at Nos. 5 and 6 and tacked on another at the ninth for a splendid outward nine. Then he crushed a 334-yard tee shot at 10 that caught a greenside pot bunker. His hole-out eagle was the shot of the day, and even Hovland took a moment to acknowledge it.

“That’s just a filthy bunker shot. So you just kind of have to go, hey, that was a sick shot,” Hovland said. “When things like that happen, you just kind of have to give each other a fist bump and say good shot.”

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy plays his ball from close to the wall on the 17th hole during his third round on day 3 of The 150th British Open Golf Championship on The Old Course at St Andrews in Scotland on July 16, 2022. (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

McIlroy wasn’t as fortunate when his drive at 17 stopped in the left rough and his second shot came out hot and bounded over the green, through the sand, rolled over the road and bounced back off the wall. Due to his ball being in a divot, he hit a low punch for his third that found the putting surface, but it resulted in his lone bogey of the day and dropped him back into a tie for the lead with Hovland. McIlroy didn’t waste any time returning to 16 under for the tournament by making a birdie at the last to shoot his second 66 of the championship.

While McIlroy eyes adding to his major glory, Hovland is in contention for the first time at one of the big events and noted that The Open is the first major he grew up watching and that being at St. Andrews would be extra special.

“I don’t think there’s any other place that would top it,” he said. “To win a major that’s closest to home, that would be really cool.”

After the round, Hovland was asked if he had a moment during the round where he thought to himself, this is where he intended to be his entire life.

“I was thinking what the hell am I doing here?” Hovland said, breaking into laughter. “Yeah, I mean, it’s pretty crazy from where I grew up and so far away from playing the PGA Tour, European Tour, for that matter major championships. 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.”

If the 24-year-old Hovland were to claim the Claret Jug, it would mark the first time that the four majors were all won by players under 30.

Hovland climbed the leaderboard by making four straight birdies on the front nine starting with a 38-footer at the third hole and following it up with a 42-footer at the fourth. He made a short birdie putt after McIlroy’s hole-out eagle at 10 and a two-putt birdie at 18 in posting a bogey-free 66 and setting up a rematch with McIlroy on Sunday in the final pairing.

Cameron Smith reacts after missing a putt on the 7th green during the third round of the 150th Open Championship golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Their closest pursuers, who trail by four strokes, are third-round leader Cameron Smith (73), whose putter cooled off and made a round-ruining double bogey at 13 after a poor drive, and Cameron Young (71), who hung tough but made his own back-nine double bogey at 16.

“The golfing gods were not with me today,” Smith said.

But might they be with McIlroy this week? Golf Channel’s Paul McGinley suggested the stars finally may be aligned for McIlroy, who said he’s finished off enough golf tournaments in his time that he’ll know what to do tomorrow, to sip from golf’s Holy Grail.

“I see so many things coming together,” McGinley said. “I just feel that the golfing gods have got something good in store for Rory McIlroy.”