Saturday, 19 July 2014
Fans watch the play on the first hole during the third round   (Getty Images)
Fans watch the play on the first hole during the third round (Getty Images)

Heavy rain did not deter spectators from turning out in force to watch an historic third day of the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.

With an amber weather warning in place for heavier rain and potential thunderstorms the R&A made the unprecedented decision to operate a two-tee start for the first time in the tournament's long and illustrious history.

It meant all 72 players were on the course by 11.01am with two of the biggest names Rory McIlroy, leading on 12 under, and 14-time major winner Tiger Woods, at two over, both last off but on the first and 10th holes respectively.

With Ivor Robson covering the first as Official Starter, the European Tour's Mike Stewart was called into action as starter on the tenth, returning to Hoylake from Yorkshire where he travelled to begin his holiday yesterday afternoon. Stewart, the Qualifying School Director, had been on refereeing duties earlier in the week before being drafted in to start players on the tenth.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson was in the first three-ball off the first at 9am and, watched by an almost full grandstand behind the tee, he produced a birdie three to move to one under.

The left-hander was joined in his three-ball by US PGA champions past and present with Keegan Bradley, who won his first major in 2011, making par and Jason Dufner bogeying.

Over at the 10th Frenchman Gregory Bourdy, Englishman Chris Rodgers and American Ben Martin all began with par.

McIlroy arrived at the course at 9.30am in relaxed mood ahead of his bid to secure the third leg of a career grand slam, having already won the US Open and US PGA, and appeared unperturbed by the rain as he leisurely selected his choice of golf shoes from the boot of the 4x4 which had driven him in.

Course officials closed Gate Six to the public to allow transportation of players to the 10th, which England's Paul Casey eagled with a 15-foot putt to move to one under.

This year's two major winners, Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer, both held the 36-hole lead so McIlroy teed off on 12 under with the weight of expectation hanging over him.

After a perfect drive he tugged a wedge into a greenside bunker, splashed out to 12 feet and bogeyed just as he did on Friday.

It meant there was an immediate two-shot swing as playing partner Dustin Johnson flicked a sand wedge to three feet for birdie as McIlroy's lead was cut to two.

Halfway around the course Woods began with a birdie at the par-five 10th after ripping a driver - the club which almost caused him to miss the cut yesterday - off the tee and two-putting from 40 feet to pick up a shot.

However, at one over he was still 12 strokes behind McIlroy but there was certainly a score to be made as South Korea's Byeong-Hun An showed with four birdies in his first six holes to reach five under.

McIlroy parred his way through the next three holes before two putting for his first birdie of the day on the fifth to move back to where he started at 12 under par and three ahead.

The rain returned around midday to give the players, all wearing black ribbons in memory of Bob Torrance, well-known coach and father of former Ryder Cup captain Sam who died on Friday after a battle against cancer, something to think about.

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