If Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods pre 2009 were leading the Open by themselves after 54, this one would be over. But at the top we have Darren Clarke (-5), who has not finished in the top 10 in a major since 2001. One shot behind him is Dustin Johnson, who shot a final round of 82 in the US Open after leading by three – and who was penalized on the final hole of the PGA to miss the playoff. So, the leader and his closest pursuer are anything but locks to win.
Working in Northern Ireland’s Clarke’s favor is the crowds overwhelming support and his superior ball striking, which led to a virtuoso 16 GIR performance on a day when the winds blew in excess of 20mph. If he keeps hitting the ball like this, it won’t matter than he can’t make a putt longer than three feet. Oh, by the way, if Clarke wins, he would be the third golfer from NI to win a major in the last six!!
As for Johnson, we know he’s going to break out sometime, and it could be now. After playing the first 13 holes of the Open in four over, he been eight under over the last 41, a performance that might be the equal of McIlroy’s dominating win at the US Open were it not for that wretched start.
Next up at -2, three back of Clarke, are Rickie Fowler and Thomas Bjorn. Fowler played impeccable golf in some of the day’s worst weather and putted well. As a result, he is primed to win his first major (and PGA Tour event) at age 22 and seven months, only two months older than Nicklaus was when he broke through. As for Bjorn, it would be quite a redemption story if he were to win after throwing the Open away on the 16th hole in 2003, but I don’t see this happening.
Miguel Angel Jimenez and Lucas Glover are at minus one, four back of Clarke. The 47 year Jimenez doesn’t have the firepower to overtake the foursome ahead of him, and poor Glover has been afflicted with a case of the yips.
The course resists super low scoring as the daily lows have been 65 (in great weather), 67, and 68. Should the winds blow on Sunday as forecast, the best those coming from behind might hope for is a 67 or 68. At the same time, the course is not so difficult that the leaders can be expected to implode – of those in the last 12 twosomes, only six players shot over 73. Add the lack of low and high scores together and you limit the ability of comebacks from deep in the pack. As a result, the winner will almost certainly come from the dozen at even par or better.
The New Mickelson
Mickelson has been telling us about his new attitude towards links golf – that he is going to relish the challenge of every shot. With a round to go he’s positioned to make a believer of us all. After six holes he was three over for the round, but he miraculously righted his ship, playing the last 12 in two under to stay in contention at even par through 54. Though he’s five shots back of Darren Clarke, he is also tied for seventh, so there are not too many bodies between him and a W.
Americans Do Well in the Bad Weather
The rain fell and the winds blew hard off the sea, and those lousy American players, who can only play bomb and gouge golf, posted 5 of the low 8 rounds. These stellar performances included 68s by Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson, and a 71 by Phil Mickelson, he of the high ball. In addition, five of the 10 72s were authored by US golfers, including ageless wonder Tom Watson, whose round tied for the low among the first 18 groups when the weather was at its worst.
Par is Just a Number
The par four fourth hole with that humungous fairway bunker was the toughest in the third round with an average score of 4.93! Meanwhile, the average on the par five seventh was a scant 4.51. The par five 14th with the OB stakes tight on the right played at an average of 5.23.
Rickie versus Rory
The game of the day was arguably the pairing of Rickie Fowler and US Open winner Rory McIlroy, the pre tourney favorite. At the start of the day they were at 140. Thirteen holes into the round Rickie was still even while Rory was plus two. Then disaster struck when McIlroy hit what the announcer said was the only tee shot to go OB right on 14 all week long. He fell to four over while Rickie, who parred 14, went on to birdie the next two, and to beat McIlroy by six big shots.