Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland will enter the final day of The 150th Open tied at the top of the leaderboard after going toe-to-toe across a sensational Saturday at St Andrews.
The pair each recorded superb 66s to take themselves to 16-under-par, four shots clear of Cameron Smith and Cameron Young, and lay the foundations for a final-day shootout reminiscent of the Duel in the Sun in 1977.
The European duo went out as the penultimate group but were soon setting the pace, Hovland recording four consecutive birdies between holes 3 and 6 to leapfrog overnight leader Smith.
McIlroy joined him in a share of the lead with a sublime chip-in for eagle from a bunker at the 10th and there was nothing to separate the two by the 18th green, on which both converted birdie putts to leave the final round tantalisingly poised.
Smith was unable to build on his day two momentum, a bogey on the 1st followed by an unwanted tour of the rough en route to a double bogey at 13 to leave the Australian playing catch-up but very much still in the hunt.
Young posted a 71 to keep his own challenge intact while his compatriots Scottie Scheffler (-11) and Dustin Johnson (-10) also remain in touch.
Si Woo Kim (-11) will play alongside Scheffler after carding a 67 and Tommy Fleetwood went one better to accompany Matt Fitzpatrick as the best-placed English challenger on nine-under, where they are joined by Adam Scott – who celebrated his 42nd birthday with a 70.
Shane Lowry became the first player for 21 years to make back-to-back Open eagles but his charge was hampered by three bogeys on the back nine, while Kevin Kisner threatened a course record by flying to the turn in 30 and eventually signed for a 65.
RORY AND HOVLAND TURN ON THE STYLE
A McIlroy-Hovland pairing was always going to be box office and they did not disappoint.
Hovland was first to hit his straps, with successive 40-foot putts immediately taking him to the brink of a lead he had made his own after completing his fourth successive birdie at the 6th.
McIlroy birdied the same hole for the third day in a row to get his own charge going and backed it up at 6 and 9 to reach the turn in 33.
It was on the next hole when the atmosphere reached fever pitch. McIlroy’s tee shot landed in the heart of a greenside bunker but the chip out was perfect and rolled into the cup to land the Northern Irishman his first Saturday eagle at an Open since 2014. He went on to lift the Claret Jug on that occasion
McIlroy moved to 16-under with a birdie at 14, before dropping his first shot of the day on the treacherous 17th having strayed to the wrong side of the road with his approach.
The 2014 Champion made amends with a birdie on the last, a feat matched by Hovland following a booming 352-yard drive that helped him enter the clubhouse with a real chance of becoming the first Norwegian Open Champion.
CAMERONS LEAD STACKED CHASING PACK
Cameron Smith scarcely put a foot wrong in setting the pace up to the halfway stage but the overnight leader was slower out the traps on day three.
His dropped shot on the opening green was his first since the 11th hole on Thursday and his putter lacked its usual potency throughout.
Smith made 255 feet of putts on Friday – averaging more than 14 feet per hole – but regularly needed two from similar distances across his third round.
He dropped two shots at 13, as did Young on a tricky 16th, to leave both with plenty of work to do if they are to regain a stronghold.
The 16th also cost Johnson, concluding a damaging run of three bogeys in four holes for a player who was sitting pretty on one-under after two early birdies.
A birdie at the last kept the 2011 runner-up in contention while Scheffler, who dropped a shot on 17, followed suit to sit a shot ahead of his fellow American.
He is joined five strokes off the lead by Kim, who produced a magnificent up-and-down to save par on the Road Hole, which proved typically challenging and produced an average of 4.33 across the day.
Fitzpatrick was among those to drop a shot there but that was a rare blemish in his round of 69, while Fleetwood’s approach play came to the fore in his six-under-par display.
Jordan Spieth is lurking a shot further back on eight-under alongside Patrick Cantlay, who was sat in double figures before a double bogey on 16.
EARLY STARTERS MAKE HAY
A bright, calm morning greeted those who had just survived the cut and several went on to make hay in the Saturday sunshine.
Kisner was the most notable, with six birdies in his front nine setting up whispers of the Old Course record, which at 61 stands two clear of the best round recorded here in an Open.
He ended up settling for the best round of the day, a 65, having found the back nine a trickier proposition – a theme that continued among several others who were quick out the blocks.
Five successive birdies carried Dean Burmester to the turn in 31 but he was level down the back nine, while Lowry rued the “horrific” putting which saw his challenge falter having reached nine-under with his consecutive chip-in eagles.
2018 Champion Francesco Molinari and Trey Mullinax were among others to cash in early on, shooting 66s.
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