Golf: McIlroy's roller coaster entertains crowds at British Open as leaders lie in wait

Rory McIlroy plays his second shot on the 15th hole during his third round on day 3 of The 149th British Open Golf Championship on July 17, 2021.
Rory McIlroy plays his second shot on the 15th hole during his third round on day 3 of The 149th British Open Golf Championship on July 17, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Rory McIlroy's realistic shot at a fifth Major championship faded on the back nine of the British Open on Saturday (July 17) after an electrifying start from the Northern Irishman entertained the thousands following his third round at Royal St. George's.

Crowds of up to 32,000 have been allowed into the 149th Open Championship despite surging infection rates for coronavirus in England.

The biggest galleries of the tournament so far saw McIlroy make five birdies on the front nine to take the turn in four under for the day and the championship, closing to within seven of leader Louis Oosthuizen.

But a combination of wild driving off the tee and sloppy putting saw McIlroy drop shots at the 11th, 13th and 15th to fall back to one under.

Oosthuizen will tee off with a two-shot lead over playing partner Collin Morikawa.

The South African has finished second six times at Majors since his sole victory at the Open Championship in 2010 at St Andrews, including at the US PGA Championship in May and US Open last month.

Oosthuizen's score of 129 for the opening two days was a record low for a British Open as the serene conditions in Sandwich, Kent, have allowed several landmarks to be smashed.

The cut line at one over was also a record, while the 63 rounds under 70 on Friday were the most ever in a single round at the Open Championship.

A host of former Major winners made their move in the pleasant conditions to put pressure on Oosthuizen if he is to claim the Claret Jug for a second time.

At just 24, Morikawa is already a Major winner after his victory at the 2020 PGA Championship and the American showed no signs of inexperience on the links conditions in his first British Open with a 66 in his second round.

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson's previous best finish at an Open Championship came at Royal St. George's when he finished second to Darren Clarke 10 years ago and he will go out in the third to last group on seven under.

Jordan Spieth, the British Open champion in 2017, is in the penultimate group at eight under.

However, the threat to Oosthuizen could come from even further back with perfect weather conditions under blue skies and a soft wind conducive to another day of low scoring.

Four-time Major champion Brooks Koepka and pre-tournament favourite Jon Rahm, who won his first Major at the US Open, both start at five under.

Bombastic world No. 6 Bryson DeChambeau has dominated the headlines in Sandwich for the wrong reasons after taking aim at the standard of his driver after a disappointing opening round.

The American, who just made the cut, was among the second group out on Saturday, but suffered another frustrating day as a double bogey at the ninth set the tone for his two over round of 72.

Scotland's Bob MacIntyre was among the big winners from the morning starters as his round of 65 took him to four under.