Say this for Rory McIlroy, golfing pride of Northern Ireland: He keeps giving himself chances to win majors. He led after each of the first three rounds of the Masters this year (before crashing to earth with an 80), and he’s led after each of the first three rounds of the U.S. Open at Congressional.
In fact, he’s just the sixth player in history to hold the third-round lead – the sole third-round lead (no ties) – in both majors in the same year. The illustrious company he keeps:
● Greg Norman, 1986 – 1-shot lead in the Masters (finished T-2), 1-shot lead in the Open (T-12).
● Jack Nicklaus, 1972 – 1-shot lead in the Masters (won), 1-shot lead in the Open (won).
● Ben Hogan, 1953 – 4-shot lead in the Masters (won), 1-shot lead in the Open (won).
● Craig Wood, 1941 – 3-shot lead in the Masters (won), 2-shot lead in the Open (won).
● Harry Cooper, 1936 – 3-shot lead in the Masters (2nd), 2-shot lead in the Open (2nd).
Norman, it should be remembered, was the sole third-round leader in all four majors that year – a feat no other player has accomplished. In addition to the Masters and Open, he was up by a stroke after 54 holes in the British Open (he won that one) and up by four in the PGA (before settling for second).
McIlroy, of course, led the Masters by four (Charl Schwartzel ultimately won) and leads the Open by a near-record eight. So he has much more margin for error Sunday than the other five did. Maybe this time he’ll finish the job and, at the age of 22, capture his first major.
One more thing: I noted Friday that Rory was the first player in history to shoot 65 or lower in both the Masters and the Open in the same year. Well, guess what? On Saturday, Jason Day became the second player to do it when he fired a 65 on the Blue Course. The 23-year-old Aussie also had a 64 in the second round at Augusta in April.