GOLF

150th Open Championship: Rory McIlroy ready to indulge in the feast of the senses offered by St. Andrews

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Major championships appeal to all five senses. This is often an exercise over four consecutive days of sensory overload. This 150th Open Championship was no different. The sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes of St. Andrews were all present on Saturday as Rory McIlroy put a hand on his second Claret Jug.

McIlroy and playing partner Viktor Hovland shot 66s to co-lead at 16 under entering the final round at St. Andrews. They are seated four from the field. McIlroy has won the last four majors in which he has led or co-led the last 18 holes, a position he hasn’t found himself in since the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla.

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First came the sounds. After driving a ball into a bunker – his first this week – on the 10th hole, McIlroy hit his shot for a walk-in eagle. An explosion erupted at the north end of the course. Vocals of “Ro-ry! Ro-ry! Ro-ry!” whipped around the far loop of the world’s most famous track, echoing what was sung around town the night before.

Long after midnight near Market Street, at an underrated pizzeria called “Big Boss,” grown men chanted the only name that matters this weekend in St. Andrews. the stretch.

Then came to touch him. Hovland punched McIlroy after birdieing his own at No. 10. It came in the middle of their best-ball 63 on Saturday, putting the two in contention for the most important major of the year. Their pairing combined to score an eagle, 11 birdies and just one bogey on the round. They were almost expected to leave 18 with their arms around each other as they declared a future duo at the next three Ryder Cups.

“Rory’s a good guy, so I don’t mind saying ‘good shot’ to him,” Hovland said. “I mean, like the bunker shot he hit on No. 10 – regardless of what situation you’re in – it’s just a dirty bunker shot. So you just have to say, ‘Hey, that was a sick blow.’ Yeah, I mean, it’s just part of the game.”

“As soon as I hit the bunker shot I knew it was going to be tight. I didn’t imagine it was going to go in,” McIlroy said. “Sometimes you need a bit of luck like that to win these kinds of tournaments. It was a real bonus, and I played well from there, but [it was] definitely the highlight of the day.”

World number one Scottie Scheffler, five behind the co-leaders, was more succinct: “I think he’s definitely a crowd favourite. How can you not cheer for Rory?”

And the smells? They blew to the right as the penultimate group returned to town. If you’ve ever attended major championships, you know they have a distinct smell. The Masters, for example, does not smell of weed, cigars, beer and mud. It just smells like the Masters. This Open does not smell of hay, sea, stone and the omnipresent threat of rain. It just smells like the Open.

Then came the curiosities. As McIlroy stood on the 12th tee with fans running all the way down the right side of the hole, the sun peeked out from behind a typical Scottish summer sky as if to see what it was all about. acted. He danced on the water in the only corner of the course where the fingers of the North Sea meet the greatest land that has ever been formed in 18 holes. It was the only time the sun shone all afternoon.

Ninety minutes later, McIlroy has taken 18th place as the co-leader of a tournament he is undoubtedly looking to win. He broke the rebound he falls into when he’s good and allowed himself to drink in one of the best scenes in golf. Rory looked around and saw the sites.

“The galleries have been massive,” McIlroy said. “The ovations are coming to the greens with the big stands, going up 18 and all that scene and trying to look for my parents and Erica and Poppy in the windows of the Rusacks because I know which rooms we’re staying in.”

It only leaves taste. It’s the first time McIlroy’s has had no one in front after 54 holes since 2014. Rory is one of the great forerunners of the modern era; it comes out in front, and all you see is the “Back” and “Home” at the bottom of its tips. McIlroy closes like champions are supposed to close.

“I’ve been knocking on the door for a while now, and this is the best chance I’ve had in a long time,” he said. “I just need to stay in my little world for one more day, and hopefully I can play golf that’s good enough to get the job done.”

McIlroy can taste this Open.

There is a sixth sense about this place, too. The best major hosts have an air of magic, and that’s the case with St. Andrews. It’s hard to put your finger on it because it’s supposed be difficult to discern.

Rory’s tiny ode to Tiger Woods on Friday was magical. The greatest player of all time coming home as the best player of the generation behind him came out with the most important middle finger of the last decade in play, and they met on a stage in the middle of a city ? Come on, it’s a fairy tale. We may have another on Sunday.

In Christopher Clarey’s terrific book on Roger Federer, “The Master,” he describes something about Federer that seems true about McIlroy when it comes to the five senses. Federer internalizes the outside and attracts everything that happens around him. It’s not the only way to compete, but it’s definitely the most endearing because of how often it ends.

Federer’s finely tuned antennae are part of the explanation for his post-match tears, much less frequent now but still an inseparable part of his personality. They seem to be not just an expression of joy or disappointment, but a release after all he has absorbed on the pitch. It’s not just about what he has emotionally invested in a match or tournament; what is it about everybody became emotionally invested in a match or tournament.

McIlroy will no doubt cry if he wins the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews on Sunday. He’s done an exceptionally great job this week of keeping his emotions at bay, but he’s restless even now as he sleeps on a 54-take co-lead. How could he not? It’s been eight years since his last major, and he’s been fighting for the future of golf all year round.

Being Rory McIlroy has an invisible impact that he internalizes every day. There must be an outlet.

McIlroy said last week that he had yet to think about taking 18th place on Sunday with a lead, “which doesn’t sound like me.” Surely, in a private moment on Saturday evening or Sunday morning, he will imagine it… just for a second. The sound of winning his fifth. The sight of a swaying city as he walks home. The smell of money. The touch of a father whose son won an Open at the Old Course. What a taste of magic.

It will surely go through his head, if only in his subconscious.

“I think it’s also appreciating the moment and appreciating that it’s incredibly cool to have a chance to win the Open at St. Andrews,” McIlroy said on Saturday.

“That’s what dreams are made of. And I’m going to try to fulfill a dream tomorrow.”

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