Rory McIlroy reckons he’ll need a miracle round to win the Open after getting blown off course at storm-hit Sandwich.
The reigning US Open champion drove the ball poorly at crucial moments as he slipped to a four over par 74 and racked up a late double bogey seven to eventually finished the day nine shots behind fellow Ulsterman Darren Clarke.
Back in the pack at four over par, he confessed that he will need a sackful of birdies and help from the weather to lift the Claret Jug today.
But if he can’t win back-to-back majors, he’d be delighted to see his old mentor Clarke lift the Claret Jug.
McIlroy said: “It’s fantastic. I saw him, he birdied the first hole today, which was good. Yeah, it’s great.
“He’s waited a long time to win that major, and it would be great if this week was the week where he could get his first one.”
As for his hopes of becoming the youngest Open champion since 1893, McIlroy was bitterly disappointed see his hopes all but disappear on a horrid day at Royal St George’s.
Outscored by six shots by playing partner Rickie Fowler, he was four off the lead starting the day but failed to cope with the conditions at key moments
“It’s a big setback,” he said. “I obviously wanted to go out and get myself closer to the lead and not further away from it. I wasn’t able to do that today.
“I’ll need a good one tomorrow, and if it doesn’t look like I can win, I’ll try my best to get a Top 10 or a Top 5.”
Paul Lawrie came from 10 shots off the lead to win at Carnoustie in 1999 but McIlroy knows he will need a lot of luck to pull off a dramatic comeback.
“It all depends on the conditions,” he said. “If the conditions are decent, I could see myself going out and shooting maybe four or five under and getting in the hunt.
“But if the conditions are similar to what they were this morning, then it’s going to be very tough to make ground up on the leaders.”
His problem yesterday was failing to take advantage in a change in the weather having survived the horrific conditions for the first half of his round.
He had problems off the tee all day and pulled tee shots at the first and third led to bogeys that left him fighting an uphill battle.
When he hit a 375 yard drive just short of the fifth, he looked certain to make birdie but failed with an eight foogter after Fowler had holed a 20 footer for birdie.
He made his only birdie of the day at the downwind, par-five seventh but bogeyed the eighth after tangling twice with the heavy rough on the left.
As the rain stopped and wind dropped he had a chance to close the gap on the leaders but pushed his tee shot out of bounds at the treacherous, par-five 14th and ran up a double bogey seven that all but scuppered his chances.
“It was really tough out there this morning, and I felt for the first 13 holes to get through those in two over par was a pretty decent effort,” he said.
“And then to give two shots away on 14 was very disappointing. You know, tried to make a couple birdies coming down the last four holes but wasn’t able to do it, and I think 74 was the best I could manage.”
McIlroy pulled his cap down over his eyes at the finish but his shoulders were already slumped after than body blow at the 14th.
Admitting he lost heart there, he said: “You’ve done so well for 13 holes to keep yourself in it, and then to hit you’ve got half of Kent on your left and you hit it right, it was a bit disappointing. Yeah, it was a tough one to take.”
Fowler, his playing partner on each of the first three days, outscored him by six shots with a superb 68 to get to two under par and finish the day tied for third just two shots behind Clarke.
And while McIlroy complained that Lady Luck turned her back on him as he got the worst of the weather in each of the first three rounds, he had to admit that Fowler’s round was impressive.
Rory said: “Rickie played really well. He’s such a natural player and he’s got a lot of feel, so he controls his ball flight very well. And he’s got a great short game. He gets it up and down when he needs to, holes good putts at the right times - 68 out there in those conditions was very impressive.