Rory McIlroy Has a Big Day at the British Open. Viktor Hovland Follows.

McIlroy leapfrogged to the top of the leaderboard with a stunning bunker shot on No. 10 for eagle. He and Hovland were tied heading into the final round on Sunday.

Standing in one of the Old Course’s 112 bunkers on Saturday, Rory McIlroy was about to be right where he wanted to be: atop the leaderboard of the British Open.

His drive on the 10th hole had landed in trouble but not deep trouble, coming to a stop in the middle of the sand trap that defends the front of the green.

McIlroy had room to swing freely, and his second shot flew over the lip of the bunker, bounced three times and then rolled a few more feet into the cup for eagle.

The 27-yard masterstroke gave McIlroy a one-shot lead over Viktor Hovland, his playing partner.

“It was skill to get it somewhere close,” McIlroy said. “But it was luck that it went in the hole. You need a little bit of luck every now and again, especially in these big tournaments. And that was a nice bonus.”

It was the sort of pleasant surprise that can make the difference between winning or losing a major championship, and Hovland got a bonus of his own on Friday when he holed out from the rough from 139 yards for eagle on the par-4 15th.

But Hovland, a 24-year-old Norwegian who excelled at Oklahoma State before turning professional in 2019, did not let McIlroy enjoy the lead alone for long. He quickly reeled McIlroy in with a birdie on the 10th that put them both at 15-under par, and they then dueled down the back nine of major golf’s most historic course.

McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, was certainly the crowd favorite, but Hovland, a dynamic presence, did not shrink from the challenge. 

 They finished with matching rounds of 66 and a share of the lead at 16-under par that put them four shots clear of the chase pack led by the American Cameron Young and the Australian Cameron Smith, who are both at 12-under heading into Sunday.

Of the top four men on the leaderboard, only McIlroy, 33, is already a major champion, but the most recent of his four victories came in 2014 when he won the British Open at Royal Liverpool.