Rory McIlroy was struggling to hold on to his lead in a rain-hit third round of the British Open on Saturday.
The 25-year-old from Northern Ireland began the day with a four-stroke lead over nearest challenger Dustin Johnson of the United States, but after just one hole that was cut in half.
McIlroy only just made it out of a greenside bunker and bogeyed, while Johnson had a birdie.
Earlier, torrential rain drenched the players as they arrived for third round action at Royal Liverpool.
The atrocious weather had been forecast long in advance and, in an unprcedented move, tournament organisers the R&A decided to bring forward the start of play to earlier in the day at 9:00am and to use groupings of three going off from the first and 10th tees instead of everyone going off from the first in pairs as usually is the case at the weekend.
The idea was to cut in half the time needed to complete the third round, thus clearing the way for an on-time finish Sunday when the forecast was better.
The tricky conditions gave hope to some in the field who have watched an imperious McIlroy dominate the first two rounds of an Open.
Two rounds of 66 have left the 25-year-old Irishman at 12 under and four strokes clear of Johnson, whose 65 on Friday was the best of the tournament so far.
The rest of the field were at least six strokes back as McIlroy honed in on what would be his third major title, but first on British soil.
The world number seven said that he was unperturbed by the prospect of bad weather and that he had practiced for Hoylake with a links-type of golf in mind.
“I've practiced the shots that I might need in windy conditions or wet conditions or whatever it is,” he said.
“And in a way having that four-shot lead isn't a bad thing, because it makes it tougher for the guys to catch you.
“Whatever the weather is tomorrow I won't mind and just try and play another solid round of golf.”
But that proved to be anything but solid as McIlroy opened with a bogey as the rain started to ease and the umbrellas came down.
Up ahead, and all at six strokes adrift of McIlroy were the crowd-pleasing trio of Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler and Ryan Moore, with South Africans Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and George Coetzee in front of them.
Fowler, also seeking his first major title after years of promise, also closed in on McIlroy with birdies at the first and second to stand at eight under, with fellow Americans Jimmy Walker, Jim Furyk and Schwartzel all edging up to seven under.
World number one Adam Scott started the day nine shots back, but still sounding confident he could claw his way back into contention for a first win in the British Open, while Justin Rose and defending champion Phil Mickelson were needing to shoot low in the 60s to have any chance.
Scott stayed at three under through five holes.
Tiger Woods, who edged into the weekend's action with a birdie at the last on what is just his second tournament since back surgery in late March, had an excellent start from the 10th with two opening birdies to get back to level par. – AFP