Rory McIlroy had the yo-yo fully functioning at the Scottish Open posting a third round 68, just the 10 shots better than Friday to close on three under par.
McIlroy is a good Friday from nirvana. The 78 he posted in the second round wind was by a factor of 14 poorer than his first round effort, which gave him a one shot advantage on Thursday.
Justin Rose scored a five under 66 with six birdies to take a joint lead with Marc Warren. The Scot made two bogies in the last five holes to undo six birdies he had amassed up to that point.
McIlroy now needs a Sunday spectacular to match the wonder of Wentworth if he is to claim a title that looked his for the taking three days ago. The bad Friday is a pattern of some concern, costing him dearly at the Masters in April, where he dropped four shots in four holes around the turn, and at the Memorial Tournament at the end of May, where he followed up an opening 63 with a 78.
“I was talking to Clarkey (Darren Clarke) this morning on the range that I’ve got it in my head now, almost trying a bit too hard on Fridays to back up a good one on Thursday. Maybe I just need to go out with a bit more of a relaxed mind set on Fridays and not as many expectations.”
McIlroy certainly enjoyed his 68 when the wind was not half the factor it was over the preceding 24 hours. Though he began with a bogey for the second round in succession, it proved the only drop shot of the day. A three-birdie spell in four holes from the third settled McIlroy, who added a fourth at the 16th to give himself an outside chance of victory today.
“I didn’t get off to a great start again. I was one over through two holes when you’re looking to be one under, with the second a reachable par five. But after that I played very solidly, four birdies and no bogeys. I didn’t put myself in too much trouble, so a much better day.
“I’ve shot 64 and a 68 on this golf course, which are two really good scores. It would be nice to shoot another good one tomorrow, but I feel good with my game and I saw enough positives to give me confidence going into The Open. It’s just about getting rid of these bad stretches of holes or these bad second rounds, then there’s no reason why I can’t really contend.”
Defending champion Phil Mickelson made only minor headway, coming home in 70 to sit one shot adrift of McIlroy on two under par. Mickelson was undone by two bogeys over the closing three holes, including a three-putt at the last to give back an eagle at the sixth. “It’s going to have to be eight or nine under par tomorrow, but I think it’s out there and I’ll be off early enough to maybe make some noise,” Mickelson said. “I’ve got to play a great front nine. I’ve let some of those holes slide by this week. I’ve got to get off to a hot start.”
Two bogeys at 15 and 17 saw Luke Donald drift out to one under par and in need of a miracle today to close the gap to the leaders. Like McIlroy, Donald started with a bogey for the second day running. Unlike McIlroy he managed only one birdie all day.
Spare a thought for Tom Lewis, who set The Open alight in 2011 as an amateur. He needs a top-three finish to qualify for Hoylake but dropped five shots in the last seven holes to finish 10 off the lead.
A happy birthday for Inbee at the Women’s British Open
Korea’s Inbee Park celebrated her 26th birthday by taking the lead in the Women’s British Open but only after Sun-Ju Ahn had been penalised two shots on the 18th hole at Royal Birkdale.
Ahn was playing her third shot from a greenside bunker when television crews reported that she had used her feet to move sand down the side of the bunker, effectively “building a stance” in violation of rule 13-3.
That meant a par five became a double-bogey seven for a round of 71 which left Ahn alongside Suzann Pettersen and Shanshan Feng on three under par – one behind Park.
Amelia Lewis and Julieta Granada share fifth place on two under par, with a further seven players, including England’s Charley Hull and defending champion Stacy Lewis, a stroke further behind.
Hull’s 66 was the best score of the day by two shots and included nine birdies, the 18-year-old bouncing back from a double-bogey seven on the 18th hole on Friday after hitting her drive out of bounds.
Hull was 11 shots off the pace overnight but said: “I can still win it if I have a good day tomorrow. If the wind gets up tomorrow, even par could win it.”