SANDWICH – Louis Oosthuizen held off a charge from Jordan Spieth to stay in front by one shot on 12 under par at the British Open halfway through his third round at a sun-bathed Royal St. George's on Saturday.
Resuming on 11 under par in pristine conditions, the South African was unfortunate not to make more than a solid start as birdie putts at the first two holes shaved the cup in a run of six straight pars.
The 2010 Open champion's patience paid off, however, as he birdied the par-five seventh and then picked up another shot at the ninth to stay ahead of Spieth.
But what was only Oosthuizen's second dropped shot of the week, at the 11th, reduced his advantage to one stroke.
Spieth, by contrast, got off to a flier with birdie at the second before a monster putt at four took him to 10 under.
A dropped shot at the fifth halted his momentum, but further birdies at six, seven and 10 briefly handed the 2017 British Open champion a share of the lead before he dropped a shot at 12.
Collin Morikawa, Oosthuizen's playing partner in the final group, made a nervous start with the 2020 US PGA champion dropping two strokes in the first six holes.
However, the 24-year-old quickly revitalised his bid to win the Claret Jug by bouncing back to make the turn in level par for his round and moving to nine under for the tournament.
The expected push from a stellar cast of former major champions further down the leaderboard never materialised on 'moving day', with the third round often the time when potential winners emerge.
Pre-tournament favourite and recently crowned US Open champion Jon Rahm was two under for the day with one hole to play as he edged into the tie for sixth at seven under.
World number one Dustin Johnson dropped back to two under for the tournament after slumping to five over after 12 holes.
Meanwhile, four-time major champion Brooks Koepka was just one stroke better off at three under after making three bogeys in the first five holes.
Canadian Corey Connors set the clubhouse lead at eight under thanks to an impressive 66.
'Tale of two nines'
Earlier, Rory McIlroy's hopes of a fifth major title faded on the back nine after an electrifying start from the Northern Irishman entertained the thousands following his third round.
Crowds of up to 32,000 have been allowed into the 149th Open Championship despite surging infection rates for the coronavirus in England.
The biggest galleries of the tournament so far saw McIlroy make five birdies on the front nine to take the turn in four under par for the day and the championship.
But a combination of wild driving off the tee and sloppy putting saw McIlroy drop shots at the 11th, 13th and 15th to fall back to one under.
"Sort of a tale of two nines," McIlroy said after walking off the 18th green.
"The back nine played tough. They're sort of tucking the pins away. They've stretched the golf course out to as long as it can play."
Bombastic world number six Bryson DeChambeau has dominated the headlines in Sandwich for the wrong reasons after taking aim at the standard of his driver after a disappointing opening round.
The American, who just made the cut, suffered another frustrating day as a double bogey at the ninth set the tone for his two over round of 72.
Scotland's Bob MacIntyre was among the big winners from the morning starters on Saturday as his round of 65 took him to four under.