Morning Chronicle - McIlroy and Hovland share British Open lead after third round

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McIlroy and Hovland share British Open lead after third round

McIlroy and Hovland share British Open lead after third round

Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland appear poised for a Sunday shoot-out to decide who leaves St Andrews with the Claret Jug after the duo ended the third round of the 150th British Open in a tie for the lead on 16 under par.

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Playing together in the penultimate pairing on Saturday, the duo both recorded rounds of 66 and sit four shots clear of their nearest challengers, Cameron Young of the United States and Australia's Cameron Smith.

McIlroy began the week as the favourite and has lived up to expectations, with rounds of 66, 68 and now 66 again.

That is identical to his first three rounds at Hoylake in 2014, when he won his only British Open to date.

The difference is that then he was six shots clear going into the final day, while this time he has Hovland for company atop the leaderboard.

"I just have to just stick to my game plan," McIlroy said.

"That's the only thing I can do, and I've done that well for the last three days. And it's put me in this position. I just need to do it for one more day."

The highlight of McIlroy's day was a sensational chip-in from a bunker for an eagle two at the 10th.

"I think it was the first bunker I put it in this week. And it was a nice result," he said.

The Northern Irishman also had five birdies with the one blemish on his card a bogey at the difficult 17th, the Road Hole.

Hovland's own six-under-par round featured six birdies and not a single dropped shot.

Whatever happens on Sunday, the 24-year-old Norwegian world number nine, who played college golf in the US, seems certain to claim his best ever finish in a major, better than his 12th place in last year's Open.

"That was pretty cool. I'm probably not going to forget that one too quickly," said Hovland, who could be the first Norwegian to win a major.

"I played great, but it was also cool to trade some holes with Rory as well."

Yet most observers on Sunday are likely to be gunning for McIlroy to win this landmark edition of the world's oldest golf tournament.

The 33-year-old followed his victory in 2014 by claiming the fourth major of his career at the PGA Championship a few weeks later.

He famously missed the chance to defend the Claret Jug in the last Open at St Andrews in 2015 after injuring an ankle playing football, and his wait to win a fifth major has been going on for eight years.

- Smith disappoints, Scheffler lurks -

Smith, the 28-year-old Brisbane native with the trademark mullet, is hoping to become the first Australian British Open winner since Greg Norman in 1993.

Yet after starting the day on 13-under and with a lead of two strokes from Young, Smith bogeyed the first and never really got going after that.

He shot a 73 and ended the day on 12-under, level with Young, his playing partner for the day who posted a 71.

Neither of those two has the past experience of winning a major, unlike world number one Scottie Scheffler, who is another shot back on 11-under, level with South Korea's Kim Si-woo.

After winning the Masters in April, Scheffler is hoping to become the first player to win Augusta and the British Open in the same year since Tiger Woods in 2005.

"I'm going to go out there and try to get off to a good start. We'll see what happens from there," Scheffler said.

A win for him would delight the enormous contingent of American fans who have flocked to the home of golf this week.

There is still hope for another of their number, with Dustin Johnson sitting at 10-under for the championship.

- Johnson carries LIV hopes -

However, there were shades of 2015 in his third round on Saturday, as he had three bogeys in four holes on the back nine and signed for an underwhelming 71.

Johnson, a two-time major winner, led the 2015 Open at the same venue at the halfway stage before a third-round 75 ended his hopes.

Having quit the PGA Tour last month to join the LIV series, he is the only member of the breakaway Saudi-backed tour still in with a chance of winning on Sunday.

England's Tommy Fleetwood -- the runner-up at Royal Portrush in 2019 -- enjoyed a 66 and moved onto nine-under overall, level with US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick and Australia's Adam Scott.