TV coverage of day three got underway at 10am in Britain, this meant there was around 4 hours before those at the business end of leaderboard teed off. It allowed for a vast array of the players looking to mount a challenge from the heart of the leaderboard to feature in the coverage and also for the big questions to be raised on the day ahead. The first 60 minutes of the coverage were, in main, dedicated to the build up of the day ahead, with Hazel Irvine picking the golfing brains of trainer wearing Tony Jacklin and the crisp Sir Nick Faldo, as well as sharing some nostalgic moments from their Open successes. The mouth-watering pairing of Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy provided a brief glimpse of live action as they navigated their opening hole. The result was a birdie chance for Padraig and a difficult pitch from the short side for Rory, both made par and it was back to the studio and an undoubted highlight for me was Sir Nick Faldo calling Dan Walker a Muppet, priceless.
As the play by the early starters failed to provide much excitement in the early on course coverage, the thoughts of those in the commentary booth digressing to matters non golf related, such as memories of Peter Allis’s bout of sun burn whilst on RAF service. The pace of play increased with the arrival of serial Tweeter, Ian Poulter, and Masters champion, Bubba Watson and the arrival of Sir Nick Faldo in the commentary booth meant talk on golfing matters was firmly back on the agenda. Bubba started with intent leaving himself a putt inside 5 foot for an opening birdie, which he duly took, and whilst he was unfortunate to see his par attempt on 4 horseshoe out, a monster birdie putt from off the green on 5 soon got that shot back. He then disappointed the galleries by opting against taking driver on 7 but it was clear that he and Poulter were the glamour pairing of the early afternoon.
With no-one making a march through the field in the early afternoon, it was stating to look more likely that, despite assertions about perfect conditions, that the eventual winner would come from those starting today at two under or better. Louis Oosthuizen and Bubba Watson moved to two under and looked like giving them momentum to push further up the leaderboard, though Louis soon hit the buffers on 5 giving one shot back, Bubba continued to move up the leaderboard with a birdie on 10 to hit three under with the 11th next. Mark Calcavecchia also got to two under through 4 holes and the 1989 Open Champion soon moved alongside Bubba at three under who had a birdie putt on 11 which he couldn’t convert and he remained three under.
14.30 marked the arrival of World Number 1 Luke Donald, who had proved me wrong yesterday with his performance. His first tee shot found the green and gave him a look at birdie from 20 feet which he failed to convert however Bubba continued to make progress, he moved into the top 5 with birdie on 12. Luke Donald made it two par’s out of two as G-Mac found the 1st green with his opening tee shot as he strode off the tee box with confidence. It was Bubba once again who was making the strides forward as he moved to five under with birdie on 13 which he gave straight back on 14.
The arrival of the penultimate pairing of the day provided an early opportunity to assess two of the big questions for the day, namely, would Tiger have a weekend to remember or one to forget like his recent US Open weekend performance. The other question was how would Olesen cope with being paired with his idol and all that surrounds Tiger. Olesen was first up and produced a nervous pull into a greenside bunker, Tiger went through the back of the green leaving both with battles to make par. It was a battle which Olesen won but Tiger lost and it resulted in him dropped back to five under as Scott and Snedeker watched on from the tee.
And so to Scott and Snedeker who had four and five shots on the field. Both would par their way through their first 4 holes, Tiger Woods added a bogey on 3 to his opening bogey to drop back to four under and six shots of the lead. There was movement elsewhere, Zach Johnson was storming back to his first round total of five under through 13, and Ernie Els moved to four under through 6. After a steady start, Olesen found bunker trouble off the tee on 4 and fell back to four under. Tiger made a two putt par on 4 and after finding a greenside bunker on 5, he nearly added another Tiger highlight from the bunker as his shot out burnt the edge. The leaders reached 5 where Scott made his par, but the blemish free run of Snedeker was ended by a three putt bogey to drop him back level with Scott on nine under. Olesen was struggling on 6 after he pulled his tee shot into thick rough, he then pulled his approach to the green into more trouble left of the green. With a cavernous bunker between his ball and the green, it was inevitable he would find the bunker and from there he did well to salvage a double bogey.
With Scott and Snedeker watching on from off the fairway, Tiger sunk a putt from around 40 feet to get to within four of their lead. The reaction from Snedeker was immediate, he pushed his approach into a greenside bunker, Scott however found the green perhaps benefited from playing second. Ironically, from his first bunker of the week, Snedeker could only play backwards and had to pitch and putt for another bogey and he was 2 over through 6 and Scott had the sole lead for the first time since 12.19 yesterday, how would he react though? The answer was with a massive tee shot on 7 whereas Snedeker’s reaction was a tweaked tee shot that got a nice kick off the edge of a bunker to land safely in the fairway. Up ahead on the 7th green Tiger made it 2 birdies on the spin to get back to 6 under and his starting position for the day. Scott gave himself a two putts on 7 to break his run of pars for the day, he needed both but he moved to 10 under, and retained a 1 stroke lead over Snedeker who matched Scott’s birdie. Tiger narrowly failed to make it 3 birdies in a row on 8, but he made up for it when he added another birdie on 9 to turn in 33.
Scott added a further birdie on 8 to move to 11 under while overnight leader Snedeker was having a front nine to forgot as a further bogey on 8 to fall 3 back of Scott . Worse followed for Snedeker who found his 2nd bunker of the week on 9 and duly lodged a third bogey of the day to turn in 36, and four behind Scott. There was an early falter by Scott on the back nine as he found a bunker from the 10th tee and was left with no choice but to chip out, his approach gave him a long putt for par which he sunk to the rapturous cheers of the gallery, Snedeker couldn’t capitalise on a birdie putt on 10 and stayed 4 back, and, after seeing Scott split the fairway with his drive on 11, he found rough from which he had to play out onto the fairway. The 11th was to be a missed opportunity for Tiger, opting for an iron off the tee, he could only make par. Scott opted to go for the green with his 3 wood and he found the green and had his second eagle putt of the round. Snedeker was treading water as his 3rd to 11 left him with 30 feet for birdie. There was to be a stroke of misfortunate for Tiger on 12 as his tee shot looked perfect in the air but took a heavy bounce on the green and landed below the surface to leave him a tough up and down as Scott made his birdie on 12 to open up a 5 stroke lead over Tiger alone now as Snedeker had leaked another shot.
Woods made his par on 12 under watchful eye of Scott on the tee box, who made a safe landing on the green playing the shot of a man with a 5 shot lead and he two putted to maintain that lead. He strode onto 13th tee box in time to see Tiger to spin his approach off the green, a result which meant he had to settle for another par. Back in the fairway and with a pitching wedge in hand, Scott tucked it left but the luck seemed to be with him today and it rolled to a stop between two greenside bunkers he left himself a tester for par and which he missed and the bogey dropped him back to eleven under and a lead of four. And so it remained as he and Tiger matched pars on 14. After leaving his approach to 15 short, Tiger opted to putt from 30 yards off the green, he got his effort within 5 feet but from there he missed his putt left and fell back to 5 behind with 3 holes of his third round remaining. McDowell had been flying under the radar for much of the round after dropping shots on his front nine but birdie on 17 and par on 18 capped a comeback on his back nine and saw him finish at 7 under and likely to be in the final group.
Woods knew he needed a strong finish to get into the final group, and he gave himself birdie chances on 16, 17 & 18 which he failed to capitalise on and left the 18th green with a round 70 to sit at 6 under confirming McDowell’s place alongside Scott in the final group tomorrow. Despite finding a greenside bunker on 17, Scott produced a wondrous shot to save par and a safe par on 18 left him with a 4 shot lead at 11 under par. Overnight leader Snedeker will want to forget his day in the main but a long birdie putt on 18 will give him heart for tomorrow where he will play alongside Tiger in the penultimate with a 4 short deficit to surmount.
Adam Scott will awake tomorrow with a four shot lead to defend, it won’t be plain sailing for him though, much will depend on the weather, if the breezy conditions that are forecast arrive then it could potentially throw it all up in the air as Scott’s high ball flight will be vulnerable to that wind. After three superb rounds, Scott will go into tomorrow with massive confidence, particularly with the experience of Steve Williams on the bag. If the weather forecast is wrong and the wind doesn’t arrive, it is hard to see Scott failing to get over the line. However if the forecast is right, I don’t see him getting home and Tiger Woods or Ernie Els will once again lift the Claret Jug.
So to a summary of my ten to follow ordered by the leaderboard position.
Adam Scott – A sublime day and with a 4 shot lead he has the perfect opportunity to break his Major duck, any round under par will make him extremely hard to beat but if the wind blows as forecast he may be in danger of being blown off course.
Tiger Woods – If he doesn’t lift the Claret Jug tomorrow, he will view today as the real missed opportunity, he was always behind the 8 ball after dropping two shots early and left himself too many long putts, he is still a big danger despite a 5 stroke deficit and a breezy day wouldn’t be a worry with his low ball flight.
Ernie Els – Els will be wondering what could be if he cut out his mistakes, he certainly could be at least 3 shots nearer if he reduced his errors by 50%, 6 shots back may seem a lot but he will be as confident as anyone if the wind arrives, though I do worry that he might make find himself making more mistakes in such conditions.
Dustin Johnson – Back to back 68’s has seen him move into the top 20 and after being two over par through 6 holes today he will be confident that if he tidy up his play on the early holes he could make a charge on his back nine to post a number that could at least guarantee a top ten finish, and if he want really low, who knows.
Rickie Fowler – A round of 70 left him on his starting position of three over, and he will hoping to finish with a flourish after what has been a difficult 3 rounds, he had a good round going at 2 under on his front nine but he fell back and he will view tomorrow as a round where he can have some fun and try to shoot as low as he can.
Miguel Angel Jimenez – The predicted fireworks failed to materialise and it looks to be another failure to convert a cut made into a decent showing at a major for Miguel, he was too wayward off the tee today and his putting continues to be a concern for him, he will be an early starter tomorrow and think there will be more cigars smoked than birdies from him.
Lee Westwood – After an early run of dropped shots, any number looked possible from Lee but he fought back well and ended the day 1 over and with something extra to work on, he won’t enjoy tomorrow from a competitive point of view but he will need use the opportunity to work on his game with only the WGC event to come before he tees up at Kiwiah Island for the PGA Championship.
Retief Goosen – After a pair of 70’s, the old inconsistencies of Goosen reappeared today and he slumped to a 75 which guarantees him an early start tomorrow and much more to ponder for reminder of the season, you have to question if his back is 100% following his problems of the last 18 months and I don’t think tomorrow will be an enjoyable experience for a deeply competitive man.
Andres Romero – At 1 under, Romero would have been hoping for a charge up the leaderboard, and at least be in position to make a final day move similar to his move at Carnoustie in 2007, it wasn’t to be and he is now staring his lowest finish in The Open in the face.
Tom Watson – I fear tomorrow’s walk up 18 will be Tom’s swansong in The Open, if it is then thanks for the memories Tom, he is without doubt the greatest Open Championship player of the last 40 years. He is clearly troubled by problems with his right hand, I just hope John Daly will show the respect to Tom and try to rush him round the course and also allow him to walk alone up 18.