ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — The islands of Great Britain and Ireland are laser-focused on the final round of the 150th British Open with favorite son Rory McIlroy looking to end a majors drought that measures eight years.
No matter what the 33-year-old shoots on Sunday he can’t play defense, which brings a group of contenders at the fringes that hold five major titles amongst them.
Matt Fitzpatrick, Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth are looking at Sunday as an opportunity even if it’s a long shot of capturing another major title.
Scott, who turned 42 on Saturday, is playing in his 86th major championship. In 85 of them he has left without the trophy, including a 2012 collapse at Royal Lytham and St. Annes where Ernie Els was hitting putts on the practice green after his final round and went from behind, to tied, to winning his second Claret Jug, without hitting a shot.
The Australian would win the Masters the following year, but the green jacket is all Scott has to show for over two decades of major championship competition.
Sitting seven shots off the lead, it’s possible to win as Paul Lawrie did winning in a playoff after coming back from 10 shots at Carnoustie in 1999, but not probable.
With Scott sitting at 9 under, those seven shots between him and leaders Viktor Hovland and McIlroy at 16 under must seem a big get.
“I need to get out of my own way as much as possible tomorrow heading out,” Scott said of a philosophy molded after 21 previous Open Championships. “If it's possible to attack a couple of pins and have a bit of fun and try and shoot 6 or 7 under somehow on the front nine and put myself in the mix with nine to go.”
That’s the philosophy, and really the only philosophy with McIlroy and four majors to his credit on the top of the leaderboard.
Spieth has won this championship in 2017 at Royal Birkdale and while he has less overall experience than Scott, with 38 starts, he makes up it with three major wins.
Going into Sunday’s final round, Spieth is in lockstep with the philosophy that Scott suggested, put the pedal to the metal and hope you come out of the loop – the 8th through 11th holes at the Old Course – with a glimmer of hope.
“I guess for tomorrow, I have no reason to try and backdoor a top 10,” Spieth said. “For me, it's fire at it and try and shoot a really low round. If I don't execute, I don't execute.”
In the first three rounds, Spieth had a philosophy of trying to shoot 5 or 6 under by the 18th tee, knowing he would have a good birdie or an outside eagle chance on the final hole.
“You can get those all in the first seven or eight holes, eight, nine, 10 holes,” Spieth said. “You can be 7 under through 10 if it's relatively calm in these Opens, but not by forcing it or trying to get there. It just comes passively.”
Spieth clearly is jettisoning that philosophy to some extent, since passive won’t work in a Scottish shootout on the Old Course.
“Being at 8 under, I would need to finish my round and have some kind of crazy monsoon tomorrow to have a chance,” Spieth said. “Even if I shoot 8, I still think I lose by more than three. I'm in a position where shooting 7, 8 under would have a really strong finish and I would gain a lot of momentum. There will be no give up. It's not like I'm in 45th.”
Fitzpatrick won the last major, the U.S. Open at The Country Club outside of Boston, by methodically putting on a clinic on how to finish.
On Sunday he will need to be aggressive, something he wasn’t required to do at the U.S. Open, with his patience winning out.
Fitzpatrick has the necessary firepower, sitting at 9 under, but he will be forced to play outside of his comfort zone to have a chance on Sunday.
“Listen, I've never won from seven behind before, so there's always a first time,” Fitzpatrick said. “But I just think, looking at the golf course, how it plays in the afternoon, they've got to come back to me. It's difficult for me to make a real charge without someone else up there as well doing the same thing. I just think that's kind of how the golf course plays.”
Out of all the Open championship rota courses, the Old Course would seem to yield the best opportunity for a chaser to get into contention.
At the same time, the Old Course has 112 bunkers, strategically placed, and enough humps and bumps to knock any good shot offline and into trouble.
Luck is always a part of winning a major championship and if one of the three find some good luck, then their task may be a bit lighter on Sunday.
“It gives you so many opportunities, like eagle opportunities, it's possible that you have four or five eagle opportunities if things go your way,” Scott said of the benefits of a chaser on the Old Course. “I don't know if it's been done, but if you happen to make three eagles out there, you're look like having a pretty good score, I reckon.”
For the record, Shane Lowry made consecutive eagles on the 9th and 10th holes, both par 4s, on Saturday.
More British Open Coverage From SI.com/Morning Read
> This is Rory McIlroy’s Week. All That Remains Is To Win the British Open.
> Scottie Scheffler, a Fast Learner On the Old Course, Still Has a Chance
> Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland Share Lead, Set Up for Head-to-Head Sunday Showdown at St. Andrews
> What To Watch In the Final Round at St. Andrews: Rory, the Closing Holes and More Birdies
> Watch: British Open Day 3 Recap, Rory Tied For Lead
> Round 4 Tee Times
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