HOYLAKE, England — It was short, and for Rory McIlroy, oh so sweet. In a matter of minutes he threw two eagles at the field and dispelled any thought the 143rd British Open would belong to anyone else.
McIlroy’s threes on the par-5 16th and 18th holes Saturday in the third round at Royal Liverpool enabled him to leap to a six-stroke lead. Almost certainly the rest of the field is playing for second.
McIlroy started the day with a four-shot lead, but when Rickie Fowler, in the group in front of him, birdied 12 and McIlroy bogied the same hole, each was 12-under par. It was a dogfight, but not for long.
McIlroy, who had a 4-under par 68, had threes on five of the final six holes, for pars at 13 and 15, for a birdie at 14 and for the eagles on 16 and 18. He made bogey on the 17th. He was in with a total of 16-under par 200, good for the six-shot lead over Fowler, who also shot 68.
“He’s definitely in control of the golf tournament right now,” Fowler said of McIlroy.
Sergio Garcia (69) and Dustin Johnson (71) are tied for a distant third at 207, while Frenchman Victor Dubuisson is at 208 and Edoardo Molinari of Italy is at 209. Among those at 210 is Adam Scott. Phil Mickelson, the defending champ, shot 71 for 215, while Tiger Woods shot a 73 for 219.
Play was off both the first and 10th tees, rare for the British Open, because officials hoped to finish before thunderstorms hit the region. There was morning rain, but the heavy stuff didn’t arrive until after the final putts were holed.
McIlroy’s eagle thunder was as impressive as Mother Nature. “I heard the roar on 16,” said Garcia, ahead of McIlroy.
On the 16th McIlroy blasted a 4-iron from 252 yards to 25 feet and holed the putt for eagle. On the 18th, he hit 5-iron from 237 to 10 feet for another eagle.
“I knew I had some holes coming in that I could take advantage of,” said McIlroy, who at age 25 is ready to grab a third major, adding the British to the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA, each of which he won easily.
“I saw on 12 Rickie got within one of me, and then I bogied the hole and then it was tied,” McIlroy said. “But I never panicked. It was nice to be able to be able to come up with the goods when I needed them the last few holes and restore those few-shots lead.”
If he wins, McIlroy would join Jack Nicklaus and Woods as the only golfers with three major victories by age 25. While McIlroy grew up playing a parkland course in his hometown of Holywood, he got plenty of experience on the links courses of Northern Ireland and knows how to take advantage of the hard fairways and greens and avoid the deep bunkers.
“I’m comfortable leading the tournament,” he said. “This is the third night in a row that I will sleep on the lead. It helps I’ve been in this position before, and I’ve been able to convert; I’ve been able to get the job done.”
In last month’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst, Martin Kaymer had a five-shot lead after three rounds and breezed to the win.
“I think whenever you have such a big lead,” said McIlroy, “you can’t think about anyone but yourself. You have to think how you’re going to control your emotions. How you’re going to control whatever thoughts you have, trying to stay completely in the present and focus on what you need to do.”