Rory McIlroy could have walked off the 18th green with a seven or even an eight, but in the end he made a sensational par save to keep his Open Championship hopes alive.
After standing on the 18th fairway watching Justin Thomas go from bunker to bunker and take a nine, before Rahm played backwards from the green side bunker, McIlroy hopefully hacked at his own third shot from the left of the two traps only for his ball to come back to his feet.
From there it was a hokey pokey as McIlroy put his right foot in and his left foot out and produced one of the shots of the day to set up a ten footer for a par which he fistpumped home to a rapturous roar for a level-par 71 which leaves him five off the early pace set by Amateur champion Christo Lamprecht, Tommy Fleetwood and Emiliano Grillo.
“I wouldn’t have been too happy walking off 18 with a bogey especially after the two shots I hit in there,” said the 2014 Open champion at Royal Liverpool. “These bunkers you ride your luck at that point and you just hope it’s not up against one of those revetted faces, Jon and I didn’t have much luck with our thirds so you are trying to get out of there with par somehow.
“Overall two-over through twelve to get out of there with even for the day I’m pretty pleased with that.”
McIlroy’s last hurrah at avoiding a decade long major drought got off to a good start. Despite carving a 3-wood right on the second he hit a superb wedge from the thick stuff to three-feet for a birdie. A bogey at four followed as did a catalogue of missed putts, including a two-footer for par on the 8th. Another par attempt went begging on 12 and after a lengthy birdie effort lipped out, his chances at that elusive fifth major were hanging by a thread.
But then some momentum arrived in the shape of an equidistant birdie on 14 and another on 15 before the late heroics to keep himself in the mix and dazzle the crowd who stuck it out for almost five and a half hours on a bitterly cold evening in Hoylake.
“It was a big test of patience I didn’t get it going on the front nine, missed a few putts, missed that little putt on eight, had a good chance to get it back on nine. But a few putts started to go in on the back nine which was really nice to see so hopefully I have my eye in now and can build on it for the next three days.
“I think I would have taken even par walking to the 13th tee. I needed to stay patient out there, it wasn’t the easiest of days but I’m still right in there and I’ll go out there in the morning and shoot something in the 60s.
“I’m pleased, I was hoping for a little bit more at the start of the day but the conditions got tougher and being two-over through twelve to get it back to even par, I’m pretty happy.”