Louis Oosthuizen held off a charge from Collin Morikawa and Jordan Spieth to stay in front by one shot on 12 under par at the British Open after a sunbathed third round at Royal St George’s on Saturday.
The South African is aiming to lift the Claret Jug for a second time on Sunday after his sole Major victory to date came at St Andrews in 2010.
However, he has finished second in six Majors since then, including at the US PGA Championship and US Open in the past two months, and will have to hold his nerve on the final round.
Resuming on 11 under par in pristine conditions, Oosthuizen was unfortunate not to make more than a solid start as birdie putts at the first two holes shaved the cup in a run of six straight pars.
His patience paid off as he birdied the par-five 7th and then picked up another shot at the 9th.
However, after dropping just one shot in his opening two rounds, bogeys at 11 and 13 allowed Morikawa and Spieth to briefly take a share of the lead.
Oosthuizen regained his composure and his precise putting for birdie at the par-three 16th to retake the lead outright and will again be partnered with Morikawa in the final group on Sunday.
The young American made a nervous start to his third round, dropping two strokes in the first six holes.
However, the 24-year-old quickly bounced back to make the turn in level par for his round and consecutive birdies at 13 and 14 put him in a great position to challenge for his second major at 11 under.
Three-putt costs Spieth
Spieth’s bid for a second Open Championship faltered late on as he three-putted on the 18th green to fall back to nine under.
The American had got off to a flier with birdies at the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 10th to move to 11 under.
But, just as in his second round when he blamed being hungry for a poor finish, the three-time Major winner struggled coming home as he also made bogey at the 11th and 16th.
The expected push from a stellar cast of former Major champions further down the leaderboard never materialised on moving day, with the third round often the time when potential winners emerge.
Pre-tournament favourite and recently crowned US Open champion Jon Rahm was the one big name to haul himself into contention with a 68 to move to seven under.
World No 1 Dustin Johnson dropped back to four under with a three- over-par round which could have been much worse but for birdies at the 14th and 16th.
Four-time Major champion Brooks Koepka is three under after making three bogeys in the first five holes to post a 72.
Canada’s Corey Connors and American Scottie Scheffler are well positioned at eight under.
‘Tale of two nines’
Earlier, Rory McIlroy’s hopes of a fifth Major title faded on the back nine after an electrifying start from the Northern Irishman entertained the thousands following his third round.
Crowds of up to 32,000 have been allowed into the 149th Open Championship despite surging infection rates for coronavirus in England.
The biggest galleries of the tournament so far saw McIlroy make five birdies on the front nine to take the turn in four under par for the day and the championship.
But a combination of wild driving off the tee and sloppy putting had McIlroy dropping shots at the 11th, 13th and 15th to fall back to one under.
“Sort of a tale of two nines,” McIlroy said after walking off the 18th green.
“The back nine played tough. They’re sort of tucking the pins away. They’ve stretched the golf course out to as long as it can play.”
Bombastic world No 6 Bryson DeChambeau has dominated the headlines in Sandwich for the wrong reasons after taking aim at the standard of his driver after a disappointing opening round.
The American, who just made the cut, suffered another frustrating day as a double bogey at the ninth set the tone for his two-over round of 72.
© Agence France-Presse