Keegan Bradley rode a hot putter to the outright lead after 18 holes of the BMW Championship, finishing Thursday's play with a seven-under 64.

Bradley entered the week ranked 44th in the FedEx Cup standings, outside the top-30 who will qualify for next week's Tour Championship, but put himself in a great position thanks in large part to his work on the greens.

He collected six birdies on the front nine, and according to Data Golf's strokes gained stats, Bradley was the top overall putter in the opening round, picking up 4.00 strokes with the flat stick, while also coming in seventh in the approach category (2.02 strokes gained).

It was a similar story for Adam Scott in outright second at six under, finishing third in putting (3.30 strokes gained) and 11th in approach shots (1.82 strokes gained).

In a tie for third at five under is the trio of Harold Varner III, Shane Lowry and Justin Thomas – but they all made it there in different ways.

Varner excelled in the tee-to-green category, putting a gap on the field as he gained 5.28 strokes, with Lowry in second-place at 3.32. While Varner was the third-best driver on the day, Lowry was actually a negative off the tee, but led the field in the approach category.

Meanwhile, Thomas was solid just about everywhere, finishing on the fringe of the top-10 in tee-to-green, around the green and putting categories – despite lipping out a four-footer for his only bogey on the 15th hole.

The logjam at four under includes Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele and Cameron Young, and there is a star-studded group one further back at three under featuring Patrick Cantlay, Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. McIlroy will be left ruing a calamitous showing at the par-three 15th hole, where he found the water to triple-bogey when he was one stroke off the lead.

U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick headlines the group at two under, Hideki Matsuyama and Will Zalatoris are at one under, and recent 20-year-old winner Joo-hyung 'Tom' Kim is at even par.

Viktor Hovland and Jon Rahm will be disappointed with their rounds at two over, and the previously red-hot Tony Finau is likely out of the hunt as only two players shot worse than his six-over 77.

Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas have praised the leadership qualities of Tiger Woods after a small group of leading players met to discuss the ongoing threat posed by LIV Golf to the long-established PGA Tour.

Woods, a 15-time major champion, flew to Delaware on Tuesday to meet fellow professionals involved in the BMW Championship, including the likes of McIlroy, Thomas and Jordan Spieth.

While the details of the meeting remain undisclosed, Woods was reportedly trying to rally support from his fellow PGA Tour professionals over the battle with the breakaway series.

The 46-year-old, who is believed to have turned down an offer between $700million and $800million to join the Saudi-backed LIV Golf, has insisted he will play in limited events in the future as his glittering career winds down.

Nevertheless, his presence at the discussion was hugely valued by McIlroy, who feels that all in attendance are on the same page regarding what the PGA Tour must do during the ongoing battle.

The four-time major winner said: "I think the one thing that came out of it, which I think was the purpose, is all the top players on this tour are in agreement and alignment of where we should go going forward, and that was awesome.

"I think it shows how much [Tiger] cares about the players that are coming through and are going to be the next generation. We're moving into a different era, and we just have to think about things a little differently.

"Like it or not, they can't really sell Tiger Woods anymore. The tour had an easy job for 20 years. They don't have Tiger. They've got a bunch of us and we're all great players, but we're not Tiger Woods. 

"He is the hero that we've all looked up to. His voice carries further than anyone else's in the game of golf. His role is navigating us to a place where we all think we should be."

Reigning US PGA Championship winner Thomas added: "It was a productive meeting. I think it's just one of those things where we all want what's best for the players, and we're working to do that.

"I think if someone like [Tiger] is passionate about it, no offence to all of us, but that's really all that matters.

"If he's not behind something, then one, it's probably not a good idea in terms of the betterment of the game, but two, it's just not going to work. He needs to be behind something."

J.J. Spaun holds the outright lead at halfway at the FedEx St. Jude Championship while 2022 Open Championship winner Cameron Smith made his move and Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler missed the cut.

Spaun had shared the lead with Kim Si-woo after the opening day at TPC Southwind and backed that up with a three-under-par round of 67 to lead at 11 under after 36 holes. The American maintained his lead with five birdies along with two bogeys in his round.

Kim slid down the leaderboard after a three-over-par round with Sepp Straka, who finished with three straight birdies, and Troy Merritt in joint second at 10 under behind Spaun, with Denny McCarthy one shot behind them.

Merritt, McCarthy and Smith all carded five-under-par rounds of 65, with the latter moving up the leaderboard with birdies and an eagle on the par-five 16th hole.

The Australian is eight-under-par after two rounds, equal with Brian Harman, Tony Finau and Ryan Palmer.

Kevin Kisner is a further shot back after seven birdies highlighted his round of six-under-par 64, but that was bettered by both Tyler Duncan and Will Zalatoris.

Duncan and Zalatoris carded rounds of 63, with the former going bogey free and draining seven birdies to move into joint ninth.

Zalatoris had shot a first-day 71 but improved with seven birdies across a bogey-free round too, but is six under overall.

McIlroy headlined the list of names to miss the cut, with three bogeys holding him back, including one on the 18th hole, as he shot 69 to fall short by one stroke.

World number one Scottie Scheffler also failed to make the cut, despite an improved second round, not helped by a double bogey on the par-four ninth hole.

South Korea's Kim Si-woo and American J.J. Spaun are the co-leaders at eight under after one round of the FedEx St. Jude Championship at TPC Southwind.

Being the first round of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, the field is made up of the top-125 from this season's FedEx Cup standings, minus LIV Golf signees Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford, who failed to have their exclusions overturned by a judge earlier this week.

Spaun shot a bogey-free 62 with eight birdies, while Kim posted seven birdies, an eagle and a solitary bogey on the par-three fourth hole.

Speaking on the broadcast after his round, Spaun said he hopes his performance during the playoffs will book his place at The Masters next year.

"It will be nice to punch another ticket there and be able to plan it out and get down Sunday, maybe even Saturday the week before, take my time and enjoy all the little things that come along with that great tradition," he said. "Hopefully keep playing well this week and the next couple weeks, and I'll be there."

In outright third place is Sahith Theegala at seven under, while one further shot back tied for fourth are Austria's Sepp Straka, South Korea's Lee Kyoung-hoon, American J.T. Poston and the red-hot Tony Finau, fresh off back-to-back PGA Tour wins for the first time in his career. Finau has shot no worse than 68 from his past 10 rounds.

The logjam in a tie for eighth at five under includes England's Tyrrell Hatton, Australia's former world number one Jason Day, and Rickie Fowler, who barely squeezed into the final field. Last week's 20-year-old first-time winner Joo-hyung 'Tom' Kim highlights the group at four under, along with Adam Scott.

Many of the serious contenders are at three under, including Cam Smith, Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and reigning FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay, and they are one stroke ahead of major winners Matt Fitzpatrick and Shane Lowry at two under.

Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy shot even-par 70s, and the pair of Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris have plenty of work to do after finishing at one over.

Scheffler was responsible for arguably the round's most viral moment as he caught a side-eye from playing partner Smith when he walked right in front of the Australian while he was lining up a putt, with many speculating it was an intentional slight due to reports Smith has signed on with LIV Golf for next season.

Rory McIlroy considered Tuesday "a good day" for members of the PGA Tour, as he felt the attempts of LIV Golf rebels to enter the FedEx Cup had made the dispute around the breakaway series "personal".

A judge ruled ahead of the FedEx St. Jude Championship that LIV Golf players were not eligible to compete in the play-offs.

Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford had filed a restraining order to allow them to play this week's tournament, while 11 LIV Golf stars put together an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour.

McIlroy, who said he was following the proceedings live on Tuesday, was delighted the trio had not been granted access after abandoning the Tour for the lucrative new Saudi-backed league.

"From my vantage point, common sense prevailed, and I thought it was the right decision," McIlroy said.

"And now that that has happened, I think it just lets us focus on the important stuff, which is the golf, and we can all move forward and not have that sideshow going on for the next few weeks, which is nice."

The four-time major winner, who finished third as Cameron Smith – reported to be the next LIV Golf signing – won The Open last month, was asked if the struggle between players on either tour had become "personal".

"Yeah – and it was when that lawsuit was filed last week or whenever it was," McIlroy replied.

"The thing that I would say [is that] I certainly have a little more respect for the guys that haven't put their names to the suit. Yeah, it's become a little more personal because of that."

And while delighted with the outcome on Tuesday, McIlroy knows there will be plenty more battles ahead.

Explaining his outlook, the Northern Irishman said: "Guys are going to make their own decisions that they feel is best for them, and that's totally fine.

"I don't begrudge anyone for going over to play LIV or taking guaranteed money. If that's your prerogative and what you want to do, totally fine.

"But I think where the resentment comes from, from the membership of this tour, is the fact that they want to try to get their way back in here with no consequences.

"Anyone that's read that PGA Tour handbook or abided by the rules and regulations, that would feel very unfair to them.

"That's sort of how it played out, and I think everyone that has abided by the rules was... There's such a long way to go – it's like you've birdied the first hole, but you've still got 17 holes to go – but it was a good day for the Tour and for the majority of the membership yesterday."

McIlroy has been prominent in his opposition to LIV Golf, and he revealed on Wednesday he had received an offer from the Premier Golf League, but not from the latest threat to the PGA Tour.

The 33-year-old was therefore asked if he enjoyed his role as an unofficial spokesperson for the PGA Tour.

"Not really," McIlroy replied, but he does feel his game has somehow benefited from his being at the centre of a storm when off the course.

"I don't feel like it's my job to be up here and stick up for the Tour or be a spokesperson," he said.

"It's just sort of the role that I've found myself in, especially coming on the PGA Tour [policy] board this year. It was a great time to agree to do that...

"I've said this to a few people: I feel when I then get myself inside the ropes, it's like no one can get to me, and it's really nice.

"So, it's actually made the golf part of it way more enjoyable. And I sort of appreciate it a little bit more, because of all the other stuff that's going on.

"If anything, it's probably helped my golf, just because I can get out there and I can not think about it and compartmentalise everything and maybe enjoy competing a little bit more – or at least appreciate it a little bit more with everything else that's going on."

Should you want proof that golf is a game for life, played in different venues and for all ages, digest what was going on in various corners of the world 15 summers ago.

In the Dallas area, an 11-year-old named Scott Scheffler was crushing the competition on the North Texas PGA Junior Tour. There were victories at Shady Valley, The Links at Water Chase, Lantana GC, and by eight strokes over Vince Whaley at Twin Creeks GC.

Down in Bayou country, another 11-year-old named Sam Burns was shooting 84 in the annual Shreveport (Louisiana) City Amateur. He finished top five.

In Scotland, an 18-year-old mop-haired kid from Northern Ireland, Rory McIlroy, was low amateur in the Open Championship at Carnoustie. Rounds of 68-76-73-72 served notice that this kid might be pretty good.

With rounds of 72-70, a 14-year-old from Kentucky named Justin Thomas finished second in his age group, third overall, at the Evian Masters Junior Cup in France. One perk for winning was that he got to play alongside Juli Inkster in a pro-am before the Evian Masters.

And on the other side of the world, in Hawaii, a 15-year-old Japanese player named Hideki Matsuyama dominated his match against Henry Park, 6 and 5, to help the visitors post a 24.5 to 19.5 win in the Hawaii/Japan Junior Cup.

Those were the stages, of course, played in the shadows. On the stage that mattered, a guy much older, the 31-year-old Tiger Woods, was collecting a fourth US PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Ho-hum as that might have been, given it was his 14th major, what surely resonated was Woods' achievement at the end of that summer. With an overwhelming performance in the inaugural FedEx Cup on the PGA Tour, Woods earned a cool $10million.

What stands out about that 2007 Tour Championship that nailed down the first FedEx Cup were the suffocating numbers. Woods won the season finale by eight strokes, it was his 61st career win and seventh of the season, and he finished the Tour Championship at 23-under 257.

"It has been a phenomenal week," Woods said, then very much at his understated best. He had, after all, also pocketed a cheque for $1.26million for winning the Tour Championship.

"I enjoyed being on a scoring streak, hitting good shot after good shot, and I felt very comfortable with my game. It felt good."

That was then and this is now, and what feels remarkable is how quickly time has passed and how surreal it is to know this: just 15 years after they were playing golf on mostly unheralded stages as kids, the 26-year-old Scheffler (he's Scottie now, unlike in 2007), Burns, 26; McIlroy, 33; Thomas, 29; and Matsuyama, 30, were numbers 1-2-3-4-5 in the FedEx Cup standings when the calendar flipped to July.

The flip side of Woods now being 46 is the fact the game is getting younger and, oh, how the current FedEx Cup standings reflect that. After Scheffler, Burns, McIlroy, Thomas, and Matsuyama, we have Patrick Cantlay, Cameron Smith, Xander Schauffele, Will Zalatoris, and Max Homa.

Average age of those 10 players: 28.5.

That is more than four years younger than the average age in 2007, the first FedEx Cup when seven of the top 10 were 31 or older. This time around, eight of the current top 10 are 30 or younger.

But if this youth parade has many marchers, the warmest spotlight must be shining on the leader, the same kid who 15 years ago was dominating the competition on the North Texas Junior PGA.

All Scheffler has done in this, his third full season on the PGA Tour, is win four times and roar into the penthouse of the Official World Golf Rankings.

Not bad, this number one designation. But some might argue that Burns is number 1A, because all he has done is win three times before, and if you go back to the middle of the 2020-21 season, Burns secured victories in four of his last 29 tournaments.

The screeching noise you heard is the arrival of the Scheffler-Burns express; they are two young men who are great friends and as if to punctuate their new-found grip on the PGA Tour, they had an exclamation point of a Sunday back in May.

Locked in a play-off at the Charles Schwab Challenge, Burns poured in a long-range birdie on the first extra hole to beat his Texas friend.

Even Scheffler flashed a wide smile that day, nodding his approval to Burns, knowing there will be many more opportunities to return the favour. Perhaps even as soon as the upcoming FedEx Cup play-offs. These are the dates that matter: August 11-14 at the FedEx St Jude Classic in Memphis; August 18-21 at the BMW Championship in Wilmington, Delaware; and August 25-28 at the Tour Championship in Atlanta, Georgia.

They are tournaments that showcase the best of the elite, and whereas you might have understandably expected them to put Scheffler in awe as a 24-year-old rookie in August of 2020, it didn't work out that way. In his second round in the play-offs, Scheffler shot 59 at TPC Boston.

He didn't win that week, but a tie for fourth set in motion a nice play-off run – tied 20th at the BMW, fifth at the Tour Championship. The three who finished immediately ahead of him in the FedEx Cup standings in 2020 – Schauffele, Thomas and Jon Rahm – are key contenders for the 2021-22 FedEx Cup as a dynamic era of young and talented performers continues into the 16th edition of this season-long race.

It is amazing, the furious speed with which these kids have progressed from junior golf to the spotlight of a FedEx Cup. Then again, perhaps there are those who saw this coming. Joel Edwards, for instance.

A veteran PGA Tour performer, Edwards was in the twilight of his career when he used to practise at Royal Oaks at Dallas where Scheffler was the brightest of a stable of talented junior players.

Precocious and supremely talented, Scheffler would challenge Edwards and another PGA Tour veteran, Harrison Frazar, to random contests. Frazar confirms he lost sleeves of golf balls to a fourth-grader; Edwards concedes that "he cost me a fortune; I used to carry a bunch of quarters because I knew I'd get my butt beat [in a bid to hit practice-range poles with wedge shots]."

And if there was one thing that stood out about Scheffler back then, even beyond his uncanny golf skills, it was his appearance.

"He always wore pants. He looked like a Tour player at 10," said Edwards.

And at 11, while mowing down the local competition, perhaps Scheffler knew this brand-new FedEx Cup was someday going to be in his future.

Open champion Cameron Smith revealed his third-round slump provided all the incentive he needed to get his act together and claim victory with a stunning 64 at St Andrews on Sunday. 

The leader after 36 holes, it was widely thought Smith had blown his chances with a scruffy 73 on Saturday which left him four shots adrift of leading duo Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland.

However, a run of five birdies in a row after the turn in his final round put Smith in the ascendancy and he never looked back, showing nerves of steel to save par on 17 before making another gain at the last to render playing partner Cameron Young's eagle immaterial. 

The Australian roared to his maiden major after undercutting crowd favourite McIlroy's Sunday score by six strokes, while he was a huge 10 shots better than Hovland across the concluding 18 holes.

Speaking about Saturday's backslide, Smith – who finished on 20 under, a shot ahead of Young – said: "I think I was really frustrated with how the round went.

"I just really put it down to links golf. I think you really have those days on these courses where you get a bit of a weird bounce here and there and puts you in a bad spot.

"So, I shrugged it off pretty good, I think, last night. I really didn't dwell on it too much.

"But to go out there and really stick my head down and keep making birdies and keep making putts, yeah, it was really cool. I think that [Saturday's disappointment] definitely helped."

Smith will have to wait before he can properly celebrate with his close family and friends, as his dad made what proved to be an ill-advised decision not to head over to Fife to see his son in action at the 150th Open Championship.

"I don't have any family here. I've got all my team here," he said. 

"My dad was actually meant to come over, and he pulled out in the last minute basically. I had a quick chat with him before. He's kicking himself now.

"I really wish he was here, too. It would have been such a cool week, even without this, to be at the home of golf. Dad loves his golf as well. It would have been awesome."

The Champion Golfer of the Year – whose score of 268 is a record in an Open at St Andrews – had some warm words of praise for McIlroy, who missed out on a second Claret Jug and first major since 2014.

"He's obviously a great player," said Smith after finishing two strokes clear of the Northern Irishman.

"He's one of those guys that you can't help but stop when he's hitting balls on the range, and he just keeps knocking on doors every week, it seems like.

"He's probably the most consistent player out here.

"He's going to get a major, I'm sure, very soon. He's just really solid. For me, I've played with Rory a few times, and there's really nothing that you can fault."

Asked about the mullet hairstyle that makes him so distinctive and whether he would keep it, the 28-year-old added: "I think it's going to stay, mate!"

Cameron Smith struggled to find the words to describe his first major victory but said he achieved "something I've always dreamt of" after triumphing at The Open.

The Australian lifted the Claret Jug following a wonderful final-round 64 at St Andrews, which saw him finish on 20 under par.

Smith headed into the final round on Sunday four shots back from the leading duo of Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland.

Yet an impressive streak of gains on five consecutive holes after the turn saw him leap to the summit on 19 under.

He then held his nerve as the pressure intensified, saving par with a tricky putt on the 17th before a birdie on the last saw him edge out playing partner Cameron Young by one stroke and McIlroy by two.

Smith, who joined the likes of Tiger Woods and Seve Ballesteros in lifting the Claret Jug at St Andrews, revealed his pride at triumphing on the 150th anniversary of the Open on the iconic Old Course.

"First and foremost, I want to thank the team," he told Sky Sports. "All the hard work we've done over the last couple of years is really starting to pay off. This one definitely makes it worth it.

"It was just absolutely awesome out there. The course was exactly how an Open Championship should be played; firm and fast, tough pins. It was just unreal.

"I had a lot of support out there, especially the Aussie guys – you guys really kept me going out there. This one is for Oz!

"It's just unreal. This place is so cool. To have the 150th Open here and walk away with the win, it's something I've always dreamt of. I didn't even know I was going to get this far, it's just awesome.

"To look at these names on this trophy and then add mine, it's unreal, I'm lost for words. I'm definitely going to find out how many beers fit in this thing, that's for sure!"

Rory McIlroy admitted he had allowed himself to dream of Open Championship glory before Cameron Smith snatched the Claret Jug away at St Andrews.

Northern Irishman McIlroy had the bulk of the crowd support as he attempted to win a fifth major, and a first in eight years, but he could not convert a lead into victory.

Having started the day in a share of first place with Viktor Hovland, McIlroy at one stage powered into a two-stroke lead at 17 under par, yet charging Australian Smith surged past him after a run of five birdies from 10 to 14, and that was that.

McIlroy attempted to respond but found little, accepting his putter had gone cold once he completed a two-under round of 70 to reach 18 under for the championship, enough only for third place. American Cameron Young sneaked up to second, one behind Smith whose closing 64 gave him a 20-under winning score.

McIlroy said: "It's not life or death. I'll have other chances to win the Open Championship and other chances to win majors. It's one that I feel like I let slip away, but there will be other opportunities."

He had wondered how it would feel to again win The Open, having triumphed in 2014 at Royal Liverpool.

"Of course. I'm only human. I'm not a robot," the 33-year-old said.

"Of course, you think about it, and you envision it, and you want to envision it. My hotel room is directly opposite the big yellow board on 18. Every time I go out, I'm trying to envision McIlroy at the top name on that leaderboard and how did that feel?

"At the start of the day, it was at the top, but at the start of tomorrow, it won't be. Of course you have to let yourself dream. You've got to let yourself think about it and what it would be like, but once I was on the golf course, it was just the task at hand and trying to play the best golf I possibly could."

McIlroy felt he played well on Sunday until it came to capitalising on chances, particularly in the middle part of the round when many, as Smith showed, made significant gains.

"I wish that I had hit it a little closer with some approach shot shots, and I wish I'd have holed a couple more putts," he said. "The putter just went a little cold today compared to the last three days.

"I've just got to keep putting myself in position, keep putting myself in there. And whenever you put yourself in that shining light, you're going to have to deal with setbacks and deal with failures. Today is one of those times. But I just have to dust myself off and come again and keep working hard and keep believing."

He said he was "beaten by a better player this week".

"But it's been a good week overall," said the world number two. "I can't be too despondent because of how this year's going. I'm playing some of the best golf I've played in a long time. So it's just a matter of keep knocking on the door, and eventually one will open."

Cameron Young admitted his eagle at the last actually made his near miss at The Open a little harder to take.

The American sunk a putt for a two at the 72nd hole, but playing partner Cameron Smith etched his name onto the Claret Jug with a birdie moments later, sealing victory after starting the day four shots behind leading duo Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland.

Young finished on 19 under, one stroke behind Smith, while crowd favourite McIlroy ended up third on 18 under after a closing 70 – five worse than Young's final round, and six more than the imperious Smith. 

His last-hole heroics had given Young a glimmer of hope that a play-off might be forthcoming, though he did not expect the on-song Smith to fluff his lines at St Andrews.

"No, Cameron was not going to miss that," he said.

"It probably hurts a little worse to come up one shot short. If you lose by eight you don't really care.

"But I played well. I would have signed up for 65 this morning, and to watch Cameron shoot what he did, it was pretty amazing. I had a front-row seat to I'm sure one of the better rounds that's been played this year.

"And we both started four back of two guys that are capable of as much if not more than just about everybody else in the world.

"I know Cameron Smith's ranked very highly in the world. I don't know exactly what, but I imagine top five or six. And this kind of just is more proof that he is that good and he is one of the very, very best players in the world."

Young was pleased with how he dealt with the pressure of being in the mix on the final day of a major and hopes to keep putting himself in that position.

"I think I handled it pretty well," he said.

"At this point – not as much as some of those other guys – but I've at least been around the lead a lot this year, so it's not the first time I've been in that situation.

"I think I said at the PGA one of these times I'll shoot five under on the back nine and that will be enough, and here I did that and it wasn't.

"I guess one of these times I'll shoot six on the back nine on Sunday and that will be enough!"

Cameron Smith surged to victory at The Open with a stunning final-round 64, edging out Rory McIlroy and Cameron Young to claim his first major.

The Australian started Sunday's round four shots back from leading duo McIlroy and Viktor Hovland but kept his cool to triumph over Young by one stroke on a thrilling day at St Andrews, finishing on 20 under.

He extinguished McIlroy's hopes of ending an eight-year major drought at the 150th edition of golf's oldest major, where record crowds were treated to a memorable tournament, even if they were denied the champion the majority wanted to see lift the Claret Jug.

McIlroy's closing 70, during which he passed up a series of birdie chances, was only enough for third spot as Young eagled the last to take second and Hovland faded to finish six shots off the pace, alongside Tommy Fleetwood.

The focus initially was firmly on the final pairing, who sat on a four-shot advantage, and it was Hovland who blinked first, three-putting for a bogey five on the fourth and McIlroy's lead was two when he birdied the fifth. 

But as Hovland stalled, it was Smith who led the charge of the chasing pack, making gains in five consecutive holes after the turn to move to the summit on 19 under. 

He showed nerves of steel to hole a tricky putt for par on the 17th and then made a birdie at the last after Young had found the hole for an eagle.

That left McIlroy needing a two at the par-four last to force a play-off as fans poured onto the 18th fairway at the home of golf, but he could only manage a par as a new major champion was crowned.

 

Rory McIlroy not only has the backing of the majority of the huge crowd at St Andrews, but he is also Silver Medal winner Filippo Celli's pick to triumph at The Open.

McIlroy moved into a two-stroke lead through six holes on the final day at the 150th edition of golf's oldest major, with playing partner Viktor Hovland his nearest rival.

Already back in the clubhouse having carded a closing 71, Italian Celli is hoping when he receives his low amateur prize it will be McIlroy lifting the Claret Jug at the presentation.

"I'm feeling very happy and proud," said the 21-year-old, who finished on five under.

"Today my golf game was really good, like the last three days. And today I made a lot of stupid bogeys, I can say that, but that's okay because I'm very happy because my dream was to play here, and I won also the Silver Medal.

"I can't ask for a better thing to win the Silver Medal at the 150th Open at St Andrews.

"I hope that Rory McIlroy can win the Claret Jug because he's my favourite player. So going out for the presentation with Rory McIlroy, it will be a real dream. And I can't ask for better in this moment."

Celli revealed his dreamlike week had got off to a memorable start on Monday, when he played the back nine with his hero.

"It started on Monday. I was so lucky because I was playing the practise round with my coach and caddie, Alberto. We were on the 13th green, and the 13th green and the fifth green are the same green," he explained. 

"Rory McIlroy was playing the practise round with Dustin Johnson. He's putting on the fifth green. I was alone by myself out there with Alberto putting on 13.

"And I was so happy when Rory, like he turned to the face to me and Alberto, and he asked me and Alberto, 'Hey, guys, you mind if I join you for the back nine?'

"I looked at Alberto and said 'Is he serious or not?' Rory, of course you can!

"I was so lucky and happy because it's a dream come true because I grew up watching the video of Rory and the wins of Rory, all the stuff he won. So it's amazing, unbelievable."

Rory McIlroy said he and co-leader Viktor Hovland "fed off each other" in a thrilling third-round pairing at the Open Championship.

The duo each carded 66s on moving day at St Andrews to share the 54-hole lead on 16 under par, four shots ahead of nearest rivals Cameron Smith and Cameron Young.

McIlroy's stunning hole-out eagle from the bunker on 10 was the highlight of his round, though he gave a shot back on 17th after clattering into the wall down the right side of the notoriously tricky Road Hole.

A pair of birdies at the last ensured McIlroy and Hovland will head out on Sunday level pegging in pursuit of the Claret Jug at the landmark 150th edition of golf's oldest major.

"I thought it was really good," the Northern Irishman, who was crowned Champion Golfer of the Year in 2014, said of his round. 

"I missed some opportunities early and Viktor holed a couple of long ones early on.

"But I stayed really patient, got my first birdie of the day on five, and I feel like my patience was rewarded around the turn with a couple of birdies and that hole-out on 10.

"Overall, a really good day. We sort of fed off each other, and navigated the last few holes well. It was tricky coming in there.

"When you're a couple off the lead going into the third day of The Open and you go out and shoot a six under, you're always going to be pleased with that."

McIlroy had magnificent backing from huge crowds on a glorious day on the Fife coast and he was grateful for it, but keen not to get carried away.

"The support that I've gotten this week has been absolutely incredible," said the four-time major winner. 

"I appreciate it and I feel it out there, but at the same time I'm trying my hardest just to stay in my own little world because that's the best way for me to get the best out of myself.

"I try to acknowledge as much as I can, but I'm just trying to stay in my process, stay in my own little bubble and I just have to do that for one more day.

"I just have to just stick to my game plan, stick to the process. The more people bring up the result, the more I'm just going to harp on about process and sticking to my game plan, because that's the only thing I can do, and I've done that well for the last three days.

"It's put me in this position. I just need to do it for one more day."

Viktor Hovland says it feels "pretty crazy" to be heading into the final round of The Open in a share of the lead with a golden opportunity to make history at St Andrews.

Hovland and Rory McIlroy will be in the last group on what promises to be a pulsating finale in Fife on Sunday after the Ryder Cup team-mates shot sublime third rounds of 66.

The 24-year-old could become the first Norwegian to win a major if he holds his nerve to lift the Claret Jug.

Hovland was living the dream as he and McIlroy put on a show in the penultimate pairing to go 16 under on Saturday, taking a four-shot advantage over Cameron Smith and Cameron Young.

The Oslo native said: "It's pretty crazy from where I grew up and so far away from playing the PGA Tour, European Tour, for that matter major championships.

"Just to be here is very special, but to have a chance to win one is - yeah, I have to pinch myself, but that doesn't mean I'm going to hold back tomorrow."

There is nowhere Hovland would rather win at first major than the home of golf.

He said: "I don't think there's any other place that would top it. Growing up in Norway and always watched The Open Championship for way longer than I ever did, for example, the Masters. To win a major that's closest to home, that would be really cool."

McIlroy is the crowd favourite at St Andrews, but Hovland fancies his chances if he rises to the occasion.

He added: "I don't mind [the support McIlroy gets]. It doesn't take the pressure off of anything, but I feel like I had some experience with that in the Ryder Cup last year.

"And at the end of the day, there's still some shouts there for me as well. So I appreciate those. I've just got to play my game and not worry about anything else."

Rory McIlroy and Viktor Hovland will form Sunday's final pairing as the 150th Open Championship heads for a thrilling conclusion.

The duo played together on Saturday and both shot third-round 66s to claim a share of the lead on 16 under at St Andrews.

However, it is not quite a two-horse race at the famous Fife links, with Cameron Young and overnight leader Cameron Smith four strokes behind, while Scottie Scheffler and Kim Si-woo are within five.

The highlight of McIlroy's round was a hole-out eagle from the bunker on 10, but he and Hovland were both wayward on their approach shots to 17 as signs of nerves started to show on the notoriously tricky Road Hole.

McIlroy was close up against the stone wall to the right of the green and ended up with a bogey five, while Hovland – whose shot came to rest on the gravel path – recovered to salvage par and restore parity at the summit of the leaderboard.

A pair of birdies at the last kept it that way, setting things up for what promises to be a memorable final day at the home of golf.

Elsewhere in the field on an exciting moving day, Shane Lowry carded back-to-back eagles on the ninth and 10th before the 2019 winner faded on the back nine to sign for a 69.

Patrick Cantlay threatened to join the fun at the sharp end of things when he got to 11 under through 12, but he dropped three shots in the remaining six holes to end up eight off the pace.

SHOT OF THE DAY

McIlroy turned a threat into an opportunity after putting his tee shot into the bunker at the 10th, with rival Hovland having landed safely short of the pin.

A superb bunker shot pitched just shy of the cup and rolled in for an eagle two that piled the pressure on Hovland.

To his credit, the Norwegian got down in two for a birdie that ensured he stayed level with his playing partner.

PLAYER OF THE DAY

On moving day in Fife, it was crowd favourite McIlroy who really clicked into gear.

A pre-tournament favourite, the 33-year-old found his groove to chart a course for his fifth major and first since 2014.

On this form, he will take some stopping on Sunday, even with Hovland for company.

CHIPPING IN

Jordan Spieth: "What's difficult about it is a lot of the pin locations are in these tiny little tucked corners where, if you hit it more than five feet by, it goes 50 feet away."

Shane Lowry: "It wouldn't take Einstein to figure out what went wrong on the back nine. My putting was horrific."

Bryson DeChambeau: "I don't think you ever know how to play this golf course fully. Every day it's different. It showcases a unique golf course each time the wind pops up or doesn't pop up. It's just different."

A LITTLE BIRDIE TOLD ME

- When McIlroy won The Open in 2014, he was 16 under after round three.

- The pairing of McIlroy and Hovland produced just one bogey between them on Saturday.

- Every winner of The Open at St Andrews has been within four shots of the lead heading into the final round.

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