AFP via Getty Images - Rory McIlroy The miracle shot that turned the Open on its head

The Rory McIlroy miracle shot that turned the Open on its head

AFP via Getty Images - Rory McIlroy The miracle shot that turned the Open on its head

AFP via Getty Images – Rory McIlroy The miracle shot that turned the Open on its head

It was the moment of this 150th Open so far. Wearing an emerald-green polo shirt, this auspicious game weekend for the island of Ireland, Rory McIlroy suffered a bunker shot in the 10th position that was so treacherous he twice went off the ball.

Aware of a flier, who could run and run on the glass green, he knew that his judgment had to be impeccable. And so, transmitting his inherent sense of opportunity, he hid it.

The roar was loud enough to cross the Tai estuary. McIlroy, a born thespian, delivered an extraordinary fist-pump. Even Scotty Scheffler, preparing to drive on the 11th tee, was forced to put his club down and applaud. The scene, you realized, embodied the spirit of McIlroy, a player who, through a mix of technical mastery and clear emotion, enters any tournament.

The vast St Andrews galleries found themselves gripped by their every move. There was a reason why the tip of McIlroy’s hat seemed like a passing of flame to a departing Tiger Woods: the four-time major champion, in the absence of his idol, is a player guaranteed pure theater.

AFP via Getty Images

AFP via Getty Images

Take this year’s Masters, where he signed his final 64 in trademark style, hopping out of a green bunker and celebrating as the ball was tracked into the hole.

However, there is a key difference between the two bunker shots that defined 2022 for McIlroy in the Majors. At Augusta, he was always chasing a hopeless hope of reining in a hard-charging Schaffler. But the mood at Old Course was completely different throughout the week, with the crowd thinking it was their best chance to end their eight-year wait for their fifth major title.

After all, he started this third round with 10 under par. The last two times he had reached double digits in the red in a major at Hoylek at the 2011 US Open and the 2014 Open, he had won.

Under the pressure of suffocating here at St Andrews, he has emerged as a champion-in-waiting every inch. His miraculous rise from the 10th bunker marked his first foray into the Sand All tournament.

Rory McIlroy salutes the crowd after his eagle - PA

Rory McIlroy salutes the crowd after his eagle – PA

The pressure on McIlroy can hardly be underestimated. Wherever you go in St Andrews, you can find out how strong their people are to conquer them. In the popularity stakes, there is no one who comes close, requiring security officials to hold back fans as they made their way to the 14th tee.

There are several on this open leaderboard who have collected major silverware since their biggest win at the 2014 USPGA on Kiawah Island – among them Scheffler, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth. But McIlroy’s status as a people’s favorite is secure.

It is reminiscent of the situation in the 1960s, when Jack Nicklaus was the best player but when Arnold Palmer was loved the most. Finally, McIlroy is ready to turn this tide of goodwill into his second claret jug.

Just as his driving has proven to be metronomically accurate, his pour has been one of the deadliest in years, benefiting from the expertise of short-game coach Brad Faxon. For 51 holes, he hung on the coat-tails of the leaders. With a birdie on the 14th, with a superb lag putt, he sprinted to the front on his own.

Huge crowd following Rory McIlroy in St Andrews - EPA-EFE/SHUTTERSTOCK

Huge crowd following Rory McIlroy in St Andrews – EPA-EFE/SHUTTERSTOCK

How lovely it would be to complete the McIlroy task. As a passionate Ulster supporter, he follows his rugby enthusiastically, responding to Ireland’s surprise series win over the All Blacks, matching the green. He had the wind, on the outer half, of a man who needed a spark. While he was manipulating the pins from his perspectives, Victor Hovland, his dazzlingly talented partner, was sinking all the straps. In eighth, he was staring at a two-shot deficit, with the Norwegian playing as if he couldn’t miss from inside 15 feet.

McIlroy’s seasoned observers know better than to despair ahead of time. The magnificence of their iron game, trust you, will eventually pay off. Sure enough, the faith was repaid in the 10th, where McIlroy let his drive leak slightly to the right to avoid the left gorge, adding a driven hawk out of nowhere. In a flash, Howland’s momentum stalled, while McIlroy leapt past nine like a player.

You always know McIlroy is in that zone when he starts to spin his club after a follow-through. This tell-tale tick was in evidence on the 14th, where, from 268 yards, it shaped 33 feet from a giant four-iron. Even when under threat from several rivals, not least Howland and Cameron Young, he made it clear that he was the man in charge.

The only unanswered question is whether he can bring his wondrous form to its ultimate fulfillment. It’s been a long time since McIlroy entered the final round in control of his own destiny. At the 2018 Masters, he last paired with Patrick Reed, but was still three times behind. Here is the stage of his victory.

Flawless in his golf and spotless in his nature, he is ready for an open coronation as seen by St Andrews. According to Jack Nicklaus, the Old Course “always” produces the best champions. McIlroy stands to provide an encouraging support for that claim.

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