Sandwich: Rory McIlroy`s hopes of adding the British Open title to last month`s U.S. Open victory were effectively extinguished on Saturday when he double-bogeyed the difficult par-five 14th after driving out of bounds.
The Northern Irishman may have been the pre-tournament favourite and the darling of the crowds all week but he was left in the slipstream of fellow 22-year-old Rickie Fowler as the duo were paired together for the third consecutive round.
While the young American, clad from head to toe in white, boosted his chances of a first professional victory by shooting a wind-defying 68 for a two-under total of 208, McIlroy`s mood was black after sliding out of contention with a 74 for 214.
"I had done so well for 13 holes to keep myself in it and then with half the county of Kent on my left I hit it right," McIlroy told reporters while conceding that he struggled all day off the tee.
"It was a bit disappointing and it was a tough one to take. If the conditions are similar to what they were this morning it`s going to be very tough to make ground on the leaders now."
The 14th was playing right into the teeth of the 30-mph winds and proved a major stumbling block for most of the 71-strong field on Saturday.
"It`s a big setback. I obviously wanted to go out and get myself closer to the lead and not further away from it," added McIlroy.
"I`ll need a good round tomorrow and if it doesn`t look like I can win I`ll try my best to get a top 10 finish or a top five."
McIlroy said he could not even blame his sad seven on the gusts and driving rain that swept in off the English Channel.
"I took my wet jacket off on the 13th fairway so the weather started to improve by then," lamented the world number four who has been the subject of `Rory-mania` this week.
Fowler had a rain jacket on from the start while his playing partner spurned the use of extra protection on the first tee. The Irishman, though, denied he had missed a trick.
"The weather that we teed off in was fine so there was no need for a wet jacket," said McIlroy.
"The heavy rain came on the second. It didn`t put me off ... so no it didn`t make a difference."
McIlroy then took time out to shower praise on Fowler`s all-round game.
"Rickie played really well," he said. "He`s such a natural player and he`s got a lot of feel so he controls his ball flight very well.
"He`s also got a great short game. He gets it up and down when he needs to and holes good putts at the right times. A 68 out there in those conditions was very impressive."