The five most compelling storylines for Sunday at the 150th Open

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Relatively calm conditions and a defenseless Old Course has set the stage for what is, if nothing else, the most clear-cut major championship Sunday of the season with a cast of would-be Champion Golfers of the Year that range from the well pedigreed (Rory McIlory and Scottie Scheffler) to the untested (Viktor Hovland and Cameron Young).

Three days and 54 holes have delivered a reason to pay attention – the rest is likely up to Mother Nature and the rub of links turf. In no particular order, these are the five most compelling storylines for Sunday at the 150th Open Championship:

Defense!

Although the summer wind freshened late in the day on Saturday, it still wasn’t enough and the field inched toward what is starting to feel like an inevitable record scoring week.

Tiger Woods holds the scoring record for The Open at St. Andrews with his 19-under 269 total in 2000 and that number is well within reach with McIlroy and Hovland at 16 under.

Sunday’s forecast does call for more winds (something in the 18 mph range) and the expectation is for the R&A to tuck hole locations on every ledge, hump and hollow in an attempt to slow the assault but it hasn’t worked yet.

Those who have lamented the impact of modern equipment and better conditioned athletes on the Old Course should start sharpening their knives.

McGinley: Rory McIlroy is primed to lift claret jug Sunday at St. Andrews

A do-over

Rory McIlroy called The Open at St. Andrews the “holy grail” this week, and given his history with the championship and the ancient links, it doesn’t take much imagination to realize what Sunday will mean for the Northern Irishman.

His history at St. Andrews paints a snake-bitten picture that’s impossible to ignore starting with his first Open on the Old Course in 2010. McIlroy started that week with a scorching 63 for a commanding lead before finding himself on the wrong side of a brutal weather draw and a second-round 80.

In 2015, he was pegged as the clear favorite following a fast start to the season, but he injured himself playing soccer and was forced to miss the championship at St. Andrews.

Although he leaned into the cliched notion of process and patience late Saturday, the truth was far more compelling.

“I think it's appreciating the moment as well and appreciating the fact that it's unbelievably cool to have a chance to win The Open at St Andrews," he said, "It's what dreams are made of. And I'm going to try to make a dream come true tomorrow."

Full-field scores from the 150th Open Championship

An exclamation point

Bobby Jones said that a golfer’s resume was not complete until he won an Open at St. Andrews. It’s a lofty goal that probably doesn’t resonate with many modern players, but for Scottie Scheffler and Matt Fitzpatrick Sunday does create an interesting possibility.

Both can put an impressive exclamation point on already stellar seasons with Scheffler looking to become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2005 to win the Masters and The Open in the same year and Fitzpatrick poised to go back-to-back following his victory at last month’s U.S. Open.

They will need some help from McIlroy and Hovland but there are plenty of reasons for both players to remain focused.

Matt Fitzpatrick: 'I'm not really a fan' of firm, bouncy Old Course

A divide

The Old Course and the game’s oldest championship have done well this week to move the narrative away from the rift LIV Golf has created in professional golf, but circumstances have brought the conversation back.

McIlroy has become the unofficial spokesperson for the pro-PGA Tour set while Dustin Johnson, one of the originals who joined the Saudi-backed LIV circuit, is six shots back after a third-round 71.

Johnson will need something dramatic to happen to have any chance, but the significance beyond the claret jug of DJ and McIlroy going head-to-head on Sunday at the game’s St. Andrews is impossible to ignore.

DJ tops drive on 18th hole, barely clears burn, still birdies

A coronation

Hovland kept pace with McIlroy with a third-round 66 and never seemed intimidated or overwhelmed by the moment, even when the Northern Irishman chipped in for eagle at No. 10 to ignite the crowd.

Hovland’s short game remains a liability, albeit a liability that’s been mitigated by his ability to putt from virtually anywhere on the Old Course, and he’s never contended in a major.

The Norwegian has been, however, remarkably poised this week and appears comfortable playing alongside McIlroy.

“Growing up in Norway and always watched The Open Championship for way longer than I ever did, for example, the Masters,” Hovland said. “To win a major that's closest to home, that would be really cool.”