Hey! How about that Adam Scott? He’s in full flight, 11-under par and a 4-shot lead after 54 holes in the British Open!
Hey! How about that Royal Lytham & St. Annes? The guy playing the best so far could only manage a 2-under, 68 on the day. And the lowest rounds of the day were only 4-under turned in by Zach Johnson and a 3-under by Graeme McDowell. Just two guys. And only seven other guys besides Scott shot 68.
This from the best players in world and this on a course ostensibly rendered defenseless by the complete lack of wind.
But it turns out that 205 bunkers strewn across the landscape in strategic ways and lush rough a foot high in places is enough to keep these great players on their heels much of the time.
It kept Tiger Woods methodically hitting irons off of every tee but one and leaving himself long approach shots into the greens. And then the R&A put a lot of the pins on little mounds or in ambiguous troughs that kept the putters stroking carefully too. Tiger was 2-over through 3 because of that tentativeness and tough reads he ended up with. But it didn’t help that he couldn’t risk going flag hunting from 220 yards out.
So if the course has these kinds of teeth in benign wind condition, what will the players be in for tomorrow when the wind is forecast for 10 to 20 mph and ESPN says with gusts 20 to 30? One of the commentators opined that the course might be close to unplayable. But as Tiger said:
I know the forecast is one thing, but let’s see what actually happens. I know we can’t rely on the weather forecasts around here. They’ve been wrong all week.
Graeme McDowell not only had the second best round of the day, he hopscotched up the board to put himself in the last group Sunday with Scott. And he had a very upbeat gleam in his eye and smile on his face as he described the chances of running Scott down:
Conditions like today, perhaps 4‑under — four shots is insurmountable, because I guess in a way it will be in Adam’s hands tomorrow if the conditions are as straightforward as they have been the last few days. Throw a bit of wind across this course like perhaps they are forecasting, he will have to go and work a lot harder and he will have to go win it. He’s going to have to go win it anyway, for sure.
But there’s a distinct lack of 65s and 66s on this golf course; there really hasn’t been many guys going super low. And 67 and 68, you know, they’re great scores. And like I say, if Adam, four shots ahead, goes and shoots level par, I’ve got to shoot 66, and like I say, that’s a tough ask on this golf course. But like I say, perhaps we’ll need a bit of wind to make that job a little easier for the chasers.
And then, weather aside, he talked about what it meant to him to be in the last group on Sunday with Scott and what his approach to the day would be:
I think since I was a young boy I dreamed of coming down that last fairway on a Sunday afternoon, the last group in The Open Championship. And I can draw on my experiences at the Olympic Club a few weeks ago, in the last group of the U.S. Open.
So this is special for me to — back-to-back major championships to be in the last group on a Sunday afternoon. I talked about it early in the week; I can’t expect to win this week, but what I can expect to do is compete if I do the right things, and to give myself a chance to be within three or four in the lead going into a Sunday afternoon and playing with the leader, that’s really all I can ask for myself the last few days.
And like I said, just very happy with the way I’ve stayed patient the last few days and kept the ball under control generally. And like I say, I’m right where I want to be.
The 36-hole leader, Brandt Snedeker, ran into a really rough patch in the middle of his round making 5 bogeys to 1 birdie. He added another bogey on 14, but then he fought back with closing bogeys on 16 and 18 to finish with a 3-over 73.
It’s just kind of one of those things where you’ve got to find out if you have some guts or don’t. I could have packed up and gone home today, but I didn’t.
Because of that, he didn’t do much damage to himself. It dropped him to 7-under, four shots behind Scott, T2 with McDowell and paired with Tiger in the final round. But he is still looking forward to the day:
I realize there’s a ton of golf left. And I’ve played a lot of great golf to get to this point. I know it’s not far off. I know it’s in there somewhere. And, you know, I’ve come back from way more behind than whatever I was at one point today. And I knew that tomorrow it’s going to be a very, very tough golf course. And as long as you hang in there and keep fighting, you never know what might happen.
One of the nice stories to come out of Saturday is that one of the 68s belonged to Ernie Els. That puts him at 5-under and T5 with Zach Johnson. The reason that it’s a nice story is that Ernie had fallen on hard times in recent years, but he had begun to turn it around at the end of last year.
He had a burst just prior to the Masters, but unfortunately it wasn’t sufficient to get him into the Masters. After all these years, it was a little different without having Ernie Els at the Masters.
He has pressed on with a playoff loss in New Orleans and finishing 9th at the U.S. Open. And now here he is right in the thick of this one. Granted, he’s six shots back, but if it really does blow Sunday, one can imagine Adam Scott’s tall, elegant swing getting knocked a little off kilter, getting a little less expressive in an attempt not to make a mistake. Without wishing anyone ill, surely the leaders backing up was in Els’ mind in the media center:
For some reason I’ve got some belief this week. I feel something special can happen. I feel I’ve put in a lot of work the last couple of‑‑ let’s call it the last couple of years, especially the last couple of months. So something good is bound to happen, so hopefully it’s tomorrow.
Finally, the young Dane who was paired with Tiger on Saturday, Thorbjorn Olesen, did a great job of holding his own while playing with his hero. The lamb was in the tiger’s den and he survived:
It was nice. I really enjoyed it. Great guy, great player, fantastic. I really enjoyed to play with him. And it’s great crowds out there, also. So it’s just really fantastic for me to try that.
It was great. I’ve never played before so many people before. So it was quite a big thing for me. I tried to enjoy it. I thought I hit a lot of good shots out there. Also could have made a few more putts. But, yeah, I thought I played pretty well.
I was really nervous, especially on the first tee I would say actually‑‑ not really before, but on the first tee I was really nervous and probably the first three or four holes, I think. And then I just calmed down and just played my own game.
He never looked nervous although his tee shot on the 1st looked a little tight-armed and came up well short of the par-3 green. But aside from that, he managed to bounce back from two bogeys on 4 and 6 with birdies on 7 and 8.
He ended up shooting 1-over 71, and dropping to 7th by himself, but people will remember what he did Saturday…because most of them couldn’t imagine themselves doing that well under the same circumstances. It was Tiger Woods and the British Open!