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British Open 2023: Rory McIlroy's incredible bunker save at 18th leaves him hopeful for better days

July 20, 2023
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Rory McIlroy wasn't able to escape the greenside bunker at the 18th hole in his first attempt.

Stuart Kerr/R&A

HOYLAKE, England — The par-5 18th hole at Royal Liverpool late Thursday at the Open Championship was among the more unusual scenes in recent majors. As Justin Rose teed off, cutting a drive down the fairway, a well-lubricated fan sang out, “Every rose has its thorns,” quoting the 1988 rock ballad by Poison. The late evening heckles had finally cracked Rose and the Englishman burst into a fit of laughter, which playing partner Rory McIlroy found infectious.

McIlroy himself had poked a long iron down the middle of the fairway of what is normally the 16th for Royal Liverpool members—a hole which features internal out of bounds down the right.

McIlroy and Rahm struck their approach shots into two of Hoylake’s devilish greenside pot bunkers and both were forced to play their third shots backwards towards the grandstands. Both left their balls in the sand. For his fourth, McIlroy mounted his left leg over the lip and somehow hoisted the shot to within 10 feet.

Unlike the last hole of the first round at the U.S. Open last month, where McIlroy whiffed a chip only to lose by one to Wyndham Clark three days later, the Northern Irishman saved par this time. The 2014 Open champion at Hoylake received a roar for the crafty par.

With an even-par 71, McIlroy was five shots behind the first-round leaders, amateur Christo Lamprecht and local favorite Tommy Fleetwood (66s).

“When you hit it into these bunkers, you're sort of riding your luck at that point and hoping it's not up against one of those rivetted faces,” said McIlroy, the 2014 Open champion at Hoylake. “John and I didn't have much of a shot with our thirds, so then you're just starting to try to make par somehow. I’d have been pretty disappointed to walk off with bogey after the two shots I hit in there.”

McIlroy was particularly chuffed with a fight back from two over through 12 holes, having grabbed birdies at Nos. 14 and 15 to ignite the Open crowds.

“Standing on the 13th tee I would have taken even par to finish the day and that’s exactly where I ended up,” he said. “I needed to stay patient out there; it wasn't the easiest of days. I was probably hoping for a little bit more at the start of the day, but as I got out there and the conditions got a bit tougher [my expectations dropped].”

Searching for his first major championship in nine years, McIlroy did himself no harm with that unusual par save on 18.

“I'm still in there [with a chance],” McIlroy said. “I [need] to go out there in the morning and shoot something in the 60s and get myself right back in it.”

Is it the British Open or the Open Championship? The name of the final men’s major of the golf season is a subject of continued discussion. The event’s official name, as explained in this op-ed by former R&A chairman Ian Pattinson, is the Open Championship. But since many United States golf fans continue to refer to it as the British Open, and search news around the event accordingly, Golf Digest continues to utilize both names in its coverage.