2018 British Open: 4 shots back, Rory McIlroy plans aggressive strategy in final round

CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND - JULY 21: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts to a shot during the third round of the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Club on July 21, 2018 in Carnoustie, Scotland. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

2018 British Open: 4 shots back, Rory McIlroy plans aggressive strategy in final round

2018 British Open

2018 British Open: 4 shots back, Rory McIlroy plans aggressive strategy in final round

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland—It’s been 1,008 years since Carnoustie witnessed a clash as tantalizing as what lies ahead Sunday at the 147th British Open. That was the Battle of Barry, when the king of the Scots Malcolm II held off pretenders set on usurping his throne.

That was in 1010 A.D. In 2018, it’s just not as clear who actually wears the crown in Carnoustie.

Is it Jordan Spieth? The defending Open champion is tied for the lead.

Or perhaps Tiger Woods? He’s four back and in the hunt at a major for the first time since the Muirfield Open five years ago.

Or is it Rory McIlroy? He owns more majors than any of the other princelings on the leaderboard, and seems intent on reestablishing the rule that had seemed impregnable when he lifted the Claret Jug four years ago.

McIlroy shot 70 on Saturday. It was his worst round of the week and leaves him 5-under-par, four back of Spieth, Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner. He had trailed by just two with three holes to play, but late stumbles left him frustrated.

“I felt like I did well to get 3-under for the round through 15. I would have taken three pars on the way in to be two behind going into tomorrow,” he said. “The only hole I should have made bogey on was 17 after the tee shot, and I got away with par there.”

His bogey on 16 came after he was distracted by a photographer who McIlroy said “was in a world of his own.”

“He was taking a photo of the crowd instead of paying attention to the golf,” the Northern Irishman said. “It’s fine. It’s one of those things that happens. It’s my fault. I didn’t regroup.”

McIlroy knows that a four-stroke deficit isn’t insurmountable with 18 holes to play at this daunting links. After all, Paul Lawrie was in the clubhouse and three strokes adrift when the leader stepped on the 18th tee in 1999. He went home with the trophy.

“I’ve got a bit of experience at this, maybe moreso than some guys on the leaderboard, but the leaderboard is packed with a lot of very good players,” he said. “The only good thing isn’t there’s not many players between me and the lead. Between -5 and -9 there’s only a handful of guys.”

In 2007, Padraig Harrington trailed by six strokes heading in the final round here and emerged victorious. But the fearsome old links is a little more generous this year, and McIlroy knows it will take a low score on Sunday. He has shot final-round 67s in both of the last two years in the Open.

His strategy is to be aggressive.

“Go out there and hit a lot of drivers,” he said simply. “I just need to get off to a fast start tomorrow. I’m still in the tournament. I’m only a few shots behind. The wind is supposed to pick up a little, so it’ll make things interesting.”

With so many variables — and wannabe pretenders to the throne — in the mix for Sunday, McIlroy said he has a target score in mind.

“It really depends on the conditions,” he said. “If I can get to double digits under par I think that will be a good score and we’ll see what happens.”

Spoken like a man who knows posting a score and seeing what happens has often been a winning strategy on this course.

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