Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland share lead at British Open

They talked, they giggled and they gradually withdrew from the field in the third round of the British Open on Saturday.

Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland, good friends in the penultimate group, hit identical scores of 66 on the Old Course to share a commanding four-stroke lead at 16 under par en route to Sunday’s final round.

At one point, while waiting for the hit, they had a pleasant conversation that completely belied the magnitude of the moment.

“We talked about a whole bunch of things,” McIlroy said. “Talked about shoes. He talked about what he’s been up to for the last few weeks. He went back home to Norway. After that he goes back to Norway. Just kept it nice and easy.”

That was reflected in their game. They were as airy as the light breezes that blew through the birthplace of the Gulf.

“I think we obviously both did our own thing,” said Hovland, who is the first player from Norway to lead a round of a major championship, according to ESPN. “But as we saw it was still pretty slow out there and we had to wait at a lot of tees. … We talked a bit.”

While Hovland’s best finishes at a Major were 12th at the US Open in 2019 and the British Open last year, McIlroy is far more experienced. He won four majors early in his career, but not since 2014 — a span of 29 majors without that elusive fifth win.

“I put myself in a great position after three days,” said McIlroy. “I’ve finished enough golf tournaments in my time to feel like I know what needs to be done tomorrow.”

Viktor Hovland plays from the 18th tee in the third round of the British Open at St Andrews on Saturday.

Viktor Hovland plays from the 18th tee in the third round of the British Open at St Andrews on Saturday.

(Peter Morrison / Associated Press)

A crucial point for McIlroy came on the par-4 10, when he holed out of a bunker on the green to Eagle. The crowd exploded and he shot his arm in the air to greet the gallery.

“The support I’ve received this week has been absolutely incredible,” said McIlroy, 33, from Northern Ireland. “I appreciate it and I feel it out there. But at the same time, I’m trying my best to just stay in my own little world because that’s the best way for me to get the best out of myself.”

The two Camerons at the top of the rankings after Friday couldn’t quite keep up. Cameron Smith, who had been the solo leader, hit a one-over-73 that included a double bogey on 13. Cameron Young, who started the day two shots behind Smith, double bogeyed on 16.

It would take a meltdown at the top for a big winner like Scottie Scheffler (minus-11), Dustin Johnson (minus-10), Matthew Fitzpatrick (minus-9) or Jordan Spieth (minus-8) to enter the competition . But that’s far from impossible on the Old Course, where fickle winds and weather can change fortunes in the blink of an eye.

“I hit a lot of good putts out there — they just dodge the cup,” said Scheffler, who won this year’s Masters and finished runner-up at the US Open. “You never know what can happen.”

Shane Lowry had back-to-back eagles but faded to the back nine with three bogeys.

“It was a very emotional day,” he said. “I felt like I was just progressing well in the middle of the front nine and not doing anything great. Obviously 9 and 10 happened and I felt like I was in the tournament. And did well to play my way out of the tournament from there.”

McIlroy said his goal Sunday was to focus on himself.

“If I go out and post a good number, I can’t worry about whether it’s Viktor or whether it’s the two Camerons, whoever it is,” he said. “I just have to do my thing. And I’ve been doing my thing for the last three days and that’s put me in a good position.” Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland share lead at British Open

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