ST ANDREWS, United Kingdom: Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland share the lead going into the final round of the 150th British Open on Sunday with St Andrews poised for a shoot-out between the two for the Claret Jug.
The duo sit level on 16 under par and are four clear of their nearest challengers, Cameron Young of the United States and Cameron Smith of Australia, who had led at the halfway stage.
McIlroy and Hovland, of Norway, will go out in the final pairing on Sunday at 2:50 pm (1350 GMT), with Smith and Young teeing off together 10 minutes earlier, by which time forecast morning showers were expected to have cleared.
The loudest support around the Old Course is likely to be for McIlroy, who was the favourite coming into the week and has so far lived up to the hype with rounds of 66, 68 and 66.
That is identical to his first three rounds at Hoylake in 2014, when he won his only British Open to date.
McIlroy followed that victory by winning the PGA Championship a few weeks later but he has not added to his tally of four major titles since then, famously missing the chance to defend his title in the last Open at St Andrews in 2015 after injuring an ankle playing football.
Yet his recent form suggested he has been building up to this, as the 33-year-old came second at the Masters in April, tied fifth at the US Open and won the Canadian Open in between.
"I'm playing a golf tournament and I've got myself in a great position after three days. I've finished off enough golf tournaments in my time to feel like I know what to do tomorrow'', he said on Saturday.
"I'm not going to take anything for granted. Nothing's given to you and I have to go out there and earn it just like I've earned everything else in my career."
McIlroy and Hovland fed off each other as they played together on Saturday, both shooting rounds of 66.
The highlight of McIlroy's day was a sensational chip-in from a bunker for an eagle two at the 10th, while he also had five birdies with the one blemish on his card a bogey at the 17th.
'I'm the underdog'
Hovland's own round featured six birdies and not a single dropped shot.
"Obviously I'm probably the underdog, but I don't mind that at all and hopefully we can push each other again'', said Hovland, who could become the first Norwegian ever to win a major.
"I don't think there's any other place that would top it. To win a major that's closest to home, that would be really cool."
Whatever happens on Sunday, the 24-year-old world number nine seems certain to claim his best ever finish in a major, better than his 12th place in last year's Open.
Unless the leading pair both struggle badly, it is going to take something special for any of the chasing pack to catch them on a course where the record low score in an Open is 63.
That record was set by Paul Broadhurst in 1990 and matched by McIlroy in 2010.
Smith, the 28-year-old Brisbane native with the trademark mullet, is hoping to become the first Australian British Open winner since Greg Norman in 1993.
He led after the first two rounds on 13-under but shot a 73 on Saturday to drop back to 12-under, level with Young.
"It's always hard to back up a good round. You know, to have one like that was definitely frustrating, but it will definitely motivate me tomorrow'', Smith said of his Saturday display.
Johnson carries LIV hopes
Neither of those two has the past experience of winning a major, unlike world number one Scottie Scheffler, who is another shot back on 11-under, level with South Korea's Kim Si-Woo.
Scheffler could become the first player to win the Masters and the British Open in the same year since Tiger Woods in 2005.
There is still hope for another American, with Dustin Johnson sitting at 10-under for the championship, although he shot an underwhelming 71 on Saturday.
Having quit the PGA Tour last month to join the LIV series, Johnson is the only member of the breakaway Saudi-backed tour still in with a chance of winning on Sunday.
World number 11 Sam Burns of the United States made the biggest impression of the early starters on Sunday as he matched the lowest round of the week with an eight-under 64 to finish on six-under for the championship. — AFP