Rory McIlroy almost hit by flying golf ball during third round in California

Rory McIlroy durign the third round in California
Rory McIlroy durign the third round in California

Justin Rose will head into the final round of the Open with the title in his sights - while Rory McIlroy was thankful to be still standing after a fright by the 17th green.

A blemish-free 68 put 35-year-old Englishman Rose on 12 under par for the week, two shots behind leader Brendan Steele, who has topped the leaderboard after 18, 36 and now 54 holes at the Silverado course in Napa Valley, California.

Birdies at eight, nine, 16 and 17 saw Rose add another solid score, after opening with 67 on Thursday and adding 69 on Friday.

The world number seven held his nerve after leaving himself a testing par putt of almost five foot at the last, and was in a share of fourth place with a group including American Jason Bohn, who jumped up the leaderboard with an eight-under 64.

US player Kyle Reifers and Argentinian Emiliano Grillo made seven-under 65s to join them, with Canadian Graham DeLaet and Americans Harold Varner III and Will Wilcox also tied on 12 under, well placed to strike on Sunday.

One better off on 13 under were Andrew Loupe and Kevin Na, who respectively made 63 and 64 on moving day.

McIlroy is apparently out of contention on six under, after a second successive 71, and was almost hit by a flying golf ball as his round neared its end.

Grillo, playing in the group behind McIlroy, almost struck the four-time major winner with his tee shot on the short par-four 17th.

The 23-year-old South American believed McIlroy, playing with Adam Hadwin and Reifers, was expecting the incoming shot.

But that was not the case and the ball provided a fright for McIlroy, who said it “missed me by a couple of inches”.

McIlroy, not having the best of days, added: “Would have put me out of my misery. Die a little bit. To be honest with you.”

He added that he did not want to blame Grillo, saying: “Not his fault. You can’t see much from back there.”

Asked about the incident, Grillo said: “Everybody agreed that they were going up from the green to the guy standing on the tee. We thought they were waiting for us to hit. I was first, and I kind of heard something that I almost hit him, but I really apologise.

“Hopefully he’s all right and he continues to play well as always. That would have been bad.”

Steele could not be dislodged from his front-running role. Determined to stay in the perfect position to strike for his second PGA Tour victory, and first since April 2011, he had a solid 69 to reach 14 under, finding sand off the tee at the long 18th but avoiding a dropped shot. Indeed Steele parred his way home after a birdie at the 10th.

He may need to shoot lower on Sunday to finish the job, but showed himself capable with a 63 on Thursday.

Scotland’s Martin Laird dipped out of contention after a two-over 74 saw him slide from a share of sixth to a tie for 39th on six under, alongside McIlroy and out of keeping with the scoring trend, as a host of players went low.

Rose said of his chances on Sunday: “The way I like to look at it, if the leader goes out and plays well and stretches out with the lead, good for him. One way to look at it is you take the leader out of the equation because it’s never easy to play with the lead.

“There are a whole bunch of guys between 13 under and 10 under par. Someone in that group is going to play well. It’s going to be a day where you’ll have to move out and go forward and make birdies and post a number.”