Rory McIlroy finally got the better of par at the British Open, just barely.
McIlroy ran off five birdies on the front nine, only to make none on the back nine at Royal St. George’s. It added to a 69, his first round under par this week, and only his second sub-70 score in 13 rounds at the majors this year.
That means another Sunday with little significance, and having to wait until April at the Masters before his next chance to end his drought in the majors that dates to 2014.
“The front nine was great. I keep saying I’m close, and that was sort of proof that it is in there,” McIlroy said. “It’s a matter of turning that nine holes into 18 holes and then hopefully turning 18 holes into an entire tournament. There are signs it is going in the right direction, I just couldn’t keep it going for the rest of the round.”
The frustration showed on the par-5 14th. McIlroy took iron off the tee and still pulled into thick grass on the left. He held the club toward the left to indicate to the gallery, and then flung the club.
“It wasn’t really a club throw, was it? It was just a little toss,” McIlroy said.
It certainly wasn’t fierce, not like that 3-iron he once heaved into into the water left of the eighth fairway at Doral one year.
“I wasn’t as (ticked) off as Tyrrell Hatton was yesterday,” McIlroy said, referring to Hatton snapping a wedge in half.
McIlroy has a busy schedule going forward. He returns to his Florida home for a week before going to the Olympics in Japan before a World Golf Championship in Tennessee and the PGA Tour postseason of three straight events.
Dustin Johnson started the third round of the British Open just four shots behind. Brooks Koepka, who thrives on the majors, was another shot back and had said earlier in the week he expected to be near the lead come Sunday.
Saturday is moving day in the majors, and they both moved in the wrong direction.
Johnson made a pair of superb par saves to start his round. Instead of settling into his game, it only got worse. He didn’t make a birdie until the par-5 14h, and by then he had fallen 10 shots behind. Johnson birdied two of the last five holes to salvage a 73 and finished eight shots back.
Koepka had three bogeys in five holes at the start and shot a 72. He was nine behind.
ONE BAD SHOT
No one has energized the gallery quite like Marcel Siem of Germany, who only qualified for the British Open on Sunday by winning a Challenge Tour event.
His celebrations were muted until he picked up his first birdie on the 10th hole, putting him at 7-under par, very much in range of the lead.
One swing changed everything.
Siem hit iron off the par-5 14th and it sailed to the right and beyond the out-of-bounds fence that separates Royal St. George’s from Prince’s Golf Club. He hit his third from the tee (into the rough). After laying up, his fifth went into a pot bunker, and he wound up with a triple bogey.
“I’m not quite sure if I missed a fairway at all today before that,” Siem said. “I just tried to squeeze a 2-iron down there. Didn’t even think about out-of-bounds. Tried to aim left of the bridge, hit a low chaser down there. Hit it on the heel, and it cut it so much I couldn’t believe it. It’s very frustrating that that happened.”
He rallied with a birdie on the par-3 16th, and hit it to 3 feet on the 18th for a closing birdie and a hard-earned 70, leaving him six behind.
Siem offered a slow-motion fist pump walking off the 18th. It was a tough day.
“I’m very, very proud of myself that I was able to forget about it, and I’m coming in with two birdies, I’m very happy with that,” he said.
SPIETH ON MUTE
Jordan Spieth was in the middle of the 17th fairway with a wedge in hand, still tied for the lead. He walked off the 18th green with a bogey-bogey finish — he missed a 2-foot par putt on the 18th hole — for a 69 and walked straight to the practice green.
He stayed there for more than 30 minutes with his caddie and swing coach. The R&A said he declined all media requests.
It’s not unusual for a player to go straight to the practice area. It’s rare for a player not to speak about his round less an hour after he was tied for the lead on Saturday in a major.
According to Golf Digest, he stopped for a few selfies with fans on his way out.
Spieth was three shots behind, the closest he has been to the lead in a major since he was tied at Carnoustie three years ago.