Rory McIlroy teed it up at St. Andrews Saturday for the first time since the final round of The Open, when he had to watch Cameron Smith hoist the claret jug after McIlroy could only manage a final-round 2-under 70 at the famed links course.
The world No. 2 fared a little better in the third round of the DP World Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, shooting a third-round 66 after nasty weather Friday morning saw McIlroy shoot a 3-over 75 at Kingsbarns.
McIlroy bogeyed the opening hole at the Old Course after spinning his approach shot back into the burn short of the green, but wouldn’t put another square on the scorecard the rest of the day. Seven birdies coming in, including a closing birdie at the short par-4 18th, vaulted the Northern Irishman inside the top 10.
"It was good. You know, obviously we had a lot of rain yesterday and that softened the course up," McIlroy said. "So even though it was quite windy out there, the ball was pretty much soft wherever it landed. So it made it quite scorable today, and the rough isn't up but it's set up pretty generously obviously for the amateurs. Plenty of opportunities."
The unique event sees players rotate through the Old Course at St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns before a 54-hole cut. The final round is played at the Old Course.
Whether McIlroy is able to contend tomorrow largely depends on one man, Richard Mansell.
The four-time major champion trails Mansell by eight shots heading into the final round, but is a mere four shots back of Ryan Fox, Alex Noren and Daniel Gavins, who are all T-2.
If Mansell were to stumble, a four-shot deficit to the rest of the field suddenly becomes manageable. After all, that’s the deficit Smith made up on McIlroy at the same course over the summer.
"If I could maybe get to the number that Richard's on right now, 15 (under), shoot 8 under tomorrow, at least you'd go out and you'd have to make him shoot under par," McIlroy said. "I guess I could go out and that would be a decent target."
However, it’s not all about trophies this week in Scotland. The Dunhill Links is a pro-am event, and McIlroy is making his way around some of the best courses in the world this week with his father, Gerry.
“Saturday of the Dunhill, St. Andrews, playing with my dad … It doesn’t get much better than that,” McIlroy said. “It’s been a great place for us as a family for a long time. A lot of memories created here.”
His father has been with him every step of the way as he’s flourished into one of the game’s all-time best, and McIlroy spoke about what it’s meant to have the support of his father, as well as his mother, as he’s journeyed from a kid in Northern Ireland to International stardom.
“They both sacrificed a lot to help me potentially get to the place where I am today, but there was no guarantee,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones. I had great parents who were unbelievably supportive, and then at the same time I was able to take advantage of the opportunities they gave me.”