ST ANDREWS, SCOTLAND // After the savage St Andrews weather battered the confidence of Rory McIlroy on Friday, he got his British Open challenge back on course with a defiant third round. McIlroy's 69 maintained his record of never carding a round in the 70s at the Old Course but unfortunately, for the 21-year-old Northern Irishman, his demoralising second-round 80 meant he was not challenging more strongly going into the final round.
McIlroy went out in 34 yesterday and further birdies at the 12th and 15th put him back in touching distance of the chasing pack in hot pursuit of leader Louis Oosthuizen. But a double bogey at the treacherous 17th hole wrecked his chances of getting back into contention for the lead. He picked up another shot at the 18th to leave him on four-under 212. "I definitely hit a few shots out there that I wasn't able to play yesterday. I think it might have just been because I had 80 shots yesterday, so I had a little bit of practice," he joked with reporters.
"I hit a good shot on 17, just got a gust of wind that completely switched. I hit a seven-iron 210 yards and got a complete gust there, so it was pretty unfortunate." McIlroy's second shot on 17 ended up jammed against the wall at the back of the putting surface. He did well to chip to the far side of the green before three-putting for a six. The world No 9 said he would need to reproduce the kind of numbers he carded in his course-record first-round 63 if he was to have a chance of winning his first major.
"If the lead is eight, nine, 10 under par, I feel I've got a really good chance because I know what I'm capable of around this golf course and I know what I'm capable of in final rounds," he said. Stewart Cink, the defending champion, knows a thing or two about playing to the crowds at the last hole, having won at Turnberry 12 months ago, and he finished his third round in style yesterday. Having driven just short of the green he rolled in a lengthy putt for an eagle two, taking him back into red figures on one under for the tournament. "I guess it was about 50 feet. I hit three-wood off the tee because it was a little downwind so much and I was fearful of going through the back," the American veteran said.
"I pulled my putter out of my bag before I even left the tee. I told my caddie, 'It's nice to have a long walk with a putter'. It was a really long walk, about 340 yards." Robert Rock, meanwhile, had a nice surprise when he woke up this morning - an Open reprieve. A second-round 78 dropped him to two over and the Englishman fully expected to be heading home but, with 30 players still to finish their rounds, he had an uncomfortable night's sleep after nervously checking scores on the internet.
With play resuming at 6.30am Rock turned up at the course half-an-hour later to find the cut mark had moved and he was back in. He promptly went out in the third group at 10.20am and shot a 68 to move to three under. "I thought I had messed it up with only a par on the last hole [on Friday] and I still didn't know when I went to bed," he said. "But I came down to the players' lounge at seven this morning and it went my way."