Tiger Woods has called it the ultimate achievement in golf, Seve Ballesteros described it as the greatest moment of his life and Jack Nicklaus believes a career is not truly complete unless it happens.
After years of planning, months of build-up and three days of electric golf, St Andrews is ready to crown its 30th Champion Golfer of the Year – and not just in any year. This is The 150th Open. As they say around here, everything has led to this.
59,077 days since Old Tom Morris stood on the 1st tee at Prestwick and hit one of the most significant shots in the history of golf, the great and the good have graced this Championship.
From Morris to Jones, Hagen to Palmer and Nicklaus to Woods, it has created legends that will stand the test of time. Indeed, only 87 men have been named Champion Golfer of the Year, all of them etched into the most precious and treasured trophy in sport.
One of those is Rory McIlroy, who is hoping to finally break free of the weight of time. Twenty-nine majors have come and gone since his last but patience is a virtue and the Northern Irishman will gladly take the pay-off if he prevails on what could well the most significant day of his career.
When Tiger Woods walked up the 18th on Friday, potentially bidding farewell to his favourite golf course in some of the most emotional scenes this centuries-old venue has witnessed, McIlroy – heading down the 1st just a little to his left – tipped his cap. It felt like a passing of the torch.
McIlroy is surely the only player who can come anywhere near Woods’ standing, the pair sharing that rare ability to capture an audience – golf fans or not – and hold them in the palm of their hands.
Like the Mona Lisa or The Rolling Stones, seeing Woods and McIlroy in full flight is a bucket list item and those who saw the 33-year-old on Saturday will remember it for the rest of their days.
His chip-in eagle 10 was by far the moment of the Championship so far and summed up the Rory experience, his ability to turn water into wine so rare that it must be seen to be believed.
And they do believe. St Andrews is usually a sleepy town on a remote part of Scotland’s east coast but McIlroy had it rocking in a such way only Woods has ever really been able to do before.
He reached 16-under-par on a sun-kissed Saturday glazed with golf perfection from the 83 players who made the cut. A lot of pain and heartache has followed since McIlroy’s last major win but it is no exaggeration to suggest this year feels different. He knows it and so do they.
“I think it's appreciating the moment as well and appreciating the fact that it's unbelievably cool to have a chance to win The Open at St Andrews,” he said.
“It's what dreams are made of. And I'm going to try to make a dream come true tomorrow.”
When he is thinking clearly and swinging freely, McIlroy can disappear into the distance so credit must go to Hovland for sticking with him on the back nine.
The Norwegian had threatened to run away with it on Saturday, his four successive birdies turning the Championship on its head, before McIlroy’s chip-in eagle changed the dynamic.
But the gutsy way he saved par on 17 by getting up and down from the gravelled path and the booming drive he then unleased on 18 that he later converted for birdie suggest he will not be intimidated.
Hovland may not have McIlroy’s reputation but to those who know, it was only a matter of time before he emerged as a major contender.
The 24-year-old has three PGA Tour and two DP World Tour wins under his belt, as well as a Ryder Cup appearance. He drives like a demon but putts with subtlety and touch, his gamedialled in to this course.
McIlroy will have the support of the locals but Hovland is chasing history, bidding to become the first Norwegian to win The Open.
“I was thinking what the hell am I doing here?,” he said.
“It's pretty crazy from where I grew up and so far away from playing the PGA Tour, Tour, for that matter major championships.
“Just to be here is very special, but to have a chance to win one is - I have to pinch myself, but that doesn't mean I'm going to hold back tomorrow.”
Like Watson and Nicklaus or Stenson and Mickelson, we could well be set for a final-day shoot-out but there is no lack of stardust in the supporting cast.
Cameron Smith struggled to a 73 but starts four strokes back, while the world number 1 Scottie Scheffler and two-time major winner Dustin Johnson cannot be discounted.
Cameron Young and Si Woo Kim do not have the CVs of those around them but have played beautifully all week, while Tommy Fleetwood, Matt Fitzpatrick and Adam Scott will not have given up, despite starting seven back.
Round Four, then, is set up perfectly: the course, the cast, the occasion. As they say, everything has led to this.