Just when you thought that he could not wait for this season to end, Rory McIlroy sprinkled a touch of magic over the British Masters with a 64 that equalled his lowest score of the year.
As if that was not enough to raise his spirits, what happened after he had signed his card must have added to his gathering sense of excitement.
The Northern Irishman thought he would start the final round ‘at least’ four or five shots back and believing he would need to hole everything today to have a chance of a first win of this lost season.
Rory McIlroy equalled his lowest score of the year at the British Masters with a 64 score
Instead he will begin just two adrift of the leader, veteran Swede Robert Karlsson, and do not be surprised to see Rory walking to the first tee today with a jauntiness back in his stride and a gleam in his eye.
Back on Wednesday when he was demob happy with two events left before his three-month sabbatical, McIlroy thought a victory would be neither here nor there.
‘Yeah, it’s a bit different now, with the competitive juices flowing,’ he said. ‘I’m going to be in one of the final groups and I’m looking forward to it.’
For much of the day it looked as if tournament host Lee Westwood was going to see all the items on his third-round wish list come to pass. Rory close to his pomp, a late flourish from Ian Poulter, a gutsy round from a local hero and, well, a decent score from himself to be in contention? They were all unfolding to the delight of another large crowd at Close House, until Westwood (right) lost his putting stroke late on to drop three costly strokes. He is still only three behind but the disappointment on his face was plain.
The Northern Irishman will begin the final round just two places adrift of the leader
Ian Poulter could not contain his anger after being distracted by supporters taking pictures on their phones as he found the water on the fifth. ‘It’s really f****** annoying,’ he said. ‘Throwing shots away for no reason is really annoying. People need to educate themselves.’
As for Poulter, he recovered well from a ropey start to post a 68 that has left him just one shot back as he seeks a first win in five years.
At 41, he has already emerged from the wilderness this year to rise 150 places in the world rankings, and a first-ever win in England today would move him firmly inside the all-important top 50 and compete his return to the big time.
McIlroy might have been among the early starters who are usually watched by a veritable one man and his dog but this feverish golf region was not about to pass up on a rare chance to watch the Northern Irishman up close.
‘It was quite incredible to see so many people and really nice to be able to give them something to cheer,’ said McIlroy.
There are now no fewer than 15 players within three shots of the lead at the British Masters
At the 5th the roar that greeted a chip-in would not have been out of place at the Gallowgate End, while for the golf obsessive there were shots to admire that only McIlroy and a handful of other members of the elite can play, such as a two iron struck at the 7th with just the requisite amount of fade.
All told, there are no fewer than 15 players within three shots of the lead, including Newcastle’s own Graeme Storm, who shot a 67 and will start just one back.