The British Open Day Three: Dazzler leads, but the young Americans are prowling

The third day at a major tends to be all about surges through the field. Today only a handful of players managed this whilst the rest of the field dropped steadily back. It is entirely possible that we are set for one of the rare occasions where the leading score after round one is lower than the overall winning score. Going into the final round Darren Clarke is the outright leader on five-under par, the very same score posted by Thomas Bjorn and Tom Lewis on day one. With today’s foul weather forecast set for something of a repeat performance tomorrow, scoring patterns are again likely to be sliding even further backwards.

Another beautiful British summer...

Bucking today’s scoring trends were the likes of Americans Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler. The pair of them carded odds-defying rounds of 68 pushing them up the leader board and right into contention. As a result of these rounds Johnson will go into day four playing alongside Clarke in the final group and just one off of the lead and Fowler has moved from level par to two-under.

Tomorrow provides the chance for these two young pretenders to really put a stamp on world golf and what better way to do so than by bagging a major title. Johnson has already won four PGA Tour titles, an impressive feat for one so young, but will forever regret the golden opportunities which have passed him by in major golf already. Two years ago he went into the final round of the US Open at Pebble Beach in links-style conditions only to collapse to a round in the eighties and fail to even come close in the final reckoning. He followed this up at last year’s PGA Championship by going down the final hole as leader only to lose it on a club-grounding technicality.

Johnson's bitterest pill at Whistling Straights last year

The latter of these sour major experiences for Johnson must have been excruciating. He was notified en-route to the green that he was being investigated on grounds of having floored his club before firing in his approach shot. He then had his worst fears confirmed by tournament officials in the scoring hut after completing the round. His angst at this slightest little error in judgement and seeming pettiness of golf ruling was clear for all to see as the cameras gaze was placed firmly upon him when signing off his card. Few could admit to not feeling for him in this most agonising situation.

In contrast Fowler’s regrets in his budding career aren’t quite as significant. However, he is yet to have won a single professional title and people won’t stop reminding him of this until he does. He has been in contention on several occasions o the PGA already but he really does need to land a title in order to put off his doubters. Making his first tournament victory a major would surely see him heralded as the US’ most threatening young prospect and endear himself to portions of the public who are yet to have taken to him.

Fowler in 'Sunday Orange', one hopes he has this in waterproof style

Both of these young Americans have demonstrated great maturity and a real flair for links golf. Dustin Johnson’s foundation is his monstrous driving, which has unsurprisingly been on fire here so far this week. He has slowly climbed his way up the leader board and has holed several pressure puts at key moments as well as landing a magnificent hole-in-one on day one. Some might argue that Johnson has benefited from playing at times when the weather has been fairer, the same can certainly not be said of Fowler. He has in fact probably had the worst of the weather throughout as was demonstrated by playing partner Rory McIlroy’s inability to keep pace with the form man throughout the three rounds which they have played together. Where McIlroy has missed his chances to stay in touch, Rickie has taken them and he fully deserves to be considered one of the favourites going into tomorrow.

Clarke leads the pack and has plenty to smile about

As well as the youthful stars of the US there are also major European hopes heading into day four and they all seem to be names you perhaps wouldn’t have anticipated going in. First round leader Bjorn is still there or there abouts, Miguel Angel Jimenez is only three shots back in his bid to become the eldest Open champion of all time, and Darren Clarke has maintained his lead and is set to follow the rest of these boys out tomorrow. Is it possible that the old-guard of the European Tour can fend off a last day challenge from the PGA’s finest young prospects? An intriguing battle lies in wait.

The Open 2011 Day Two: Best of British Bow out as Darren Clarke surges to the top

Royal St. George’s today played host to a demise of the British golfing empire. Perhaps this is only a brief setback to the current trend of British domination in the sport, but it was a very disappointing day nonetheless for the British hopes.

Not only did the vast majority of home hopes fail to make a charge up the leader board, they actually fell back. Not only did they fall back, they collapsed in a heap.

Concerns mount as to Westwood and Donald's lack of a major victory

Hopes were high amongst British golf fans that world numbers one and two, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, would come to the fore this week and land their first major. Having started the day at a score of one-over par they both failed to make the cut.

Sadly these two were not the only Brits that failed to meet the mark. Major winners Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington also fell below the cut mark, McDowell in particular spiralled out of control on day two. Having started the day at two-under and well in the hunt, G-Mac fell apart ending the day at five-over for the tournament. Another British hope to slip away was Ian Poulter who fell apart whilst failing to back-up an impressive opening round of 69.

Whilst two Irishmen fell by the wayside one went charging to the top. Darren Clarke produced what was one of only a few sub-70 rounds on what was a surprisingly lean day of scoring. He today made it back-to-back rounds of 68 and took the joint lead with Lucas Glover who put together a steady 70. Both men will return tomorrow in the last group out and will be hoping the worst of the conditions have come and gone by the time they step up to the tee. Clarke is in pole position not only for the overall tournament but in terms of British hopes. If he delivers his first career major in his forties come Sunday evening then perhaps the disappointing displays of fellow Brits will be somewhat forgotten.

Clarke finds some magic with the putter to birdie the 18th

Having started the day with major British hopes positioned ominously on the leader board after indifferent opening rounds today was a definite reality check. However, in addition to Clarke there are some remaining British hopes.

Pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy remains decently placed four back at level-par and would perhaps be on terms with the leaders had his putting reached the standards it did at the US Open. Aside from the lack of chance conversion there does appear to be another worry surrounding his game this week and that is a seeming insistence to not alter his game. Links golf requires a very defined style of play and McIlroy today missed out too many times by playing the sorts of shot we would attempt any other week. In order to drive up the leader board tomorrow I believe he needs to alter his game a little. Wholesale changes are far from necessary, but it does seem that he should be aiming to feed the balls up to the green a little more rather than sending in high bombs at the flags. More often than not he missed out today when taking on these audacious efforts, but some impressive scrambling saw his way to level-par for the tournament.

McIlroy looks to handle the pressure of being a major winner and make a move on Saturday

The top of the leader board is a crowded place going into round three and the likes of McIlroy are still well in touch at four back. The weather this weekend is set to be pretty horrendous by all accounts and this should make for some very interesting scoring. If anybody manages to handle the wild winds and sheets of rain then they will have a fair chance of prospering, even if they are coming into round three at about one or two over par.

Schwartzel smiles away as he moves into contention with one of the rounds of the day

The ones to watch in round three could be Masters champion Charl Schwartzel who impressed with a 67 today and Simon Dyson (my punt for the week) who flattered to deceive today after bagging birdies at the first three holes today. Dyson ended up slipping back from the outright lead to a frustrating level par for the tournament but he is quick around the course and knows full-well how to handle links conditions. Others to keep an eye on are the ever-entertaining Sergio Garcia placed well at level-par and young Tom Lewis who backed up his miracle 65 with a battling 74. The young amateur may have relinquished his status at the top of the standings but his is still in the red and has nothing to lose. It seems unlikely that he could go on to win but stranger things have happened.

Moving day is here and Sandwich must be braced for excitement amongst the predicted awful weather conditions.

The Open 2011 Day One: Tom-Tom find their way around a tricky St.Georges

The first day of the Open has rather unsurprisingly produced some fantastic stories. Again it has become a tale of the young and old at the top of the leader board after round one, and the field is set well for great developments over the next three days.

The Great-Dane leads the way

Leading the way thru eighteen are forty year old Thomas Bjorn and twenty year old amateur Tom Lewis. Scarcely could these players be further apart in their levels of experience, but today they have produced similarly impressive returns on demonstrations of great links play.

Bjorn, who recently lost his father was looking to avenge the ghosts of his past here at Sandwich having thrown away the lead when in position to clinch the title in 2003. Having to fight with such a multitude of emotions would be hard for most, but Bjorn excelled. Add to these varied emotions the fact that he was only a sixth reserve to play the Open this time last week and the story becomes greater still. This somewhat unfamiliar and unusual situation could indeed be the reason behind the seeming ease and lack of pressure present in his first round showing of 65.

Lewis’ story if anything is more incredible. The prospective Walker Cup team member went from unknown amateur to household name in the space of four hours today. He managed to match Bjorn’s round of 65 in his first ever round of British Open golf, quite the feat for a lad who few could claim to have seen in action before this afternoon.

Lewis takes the talk of the 'Young-Guard' even further

Not only did he score extraordinarily well, but he demonstrated an incredible temperament given the circumstances. Having stormed out of the blocks going out in three-under par, he then encountered his first real sticky patch in major golf. A couple of dropped shots after the turn took him back to one-under and it seemed that the wheels may have derailed. Lewis, however, was having none of it.

A four hole birdie streak from hole fourteen took him back to the summit and there he remained. The young amateur even claimed to have been unaware of the streak he was on and where it had placed him in the standings. The focus and calmness of his first round has won him many followers including playing partner and golfing legend Tom Watson.

Lewis said it was an “honour” and “the greatest privilege” to play with the man to whom he owes his first name, and it certainly seemed that way out on the course. Watson, the seasoned campaigner that he is, allowed Lewis his own space to start with but as the round went on and the relationship developed he could be seen strolling the fairways with an arm around the shoulder of the youngster. This is what amateur participation in major events is all about, and it certainly can’t be said that Lewis didn’t deserve his place having torn apart the tricky links course at Rye over his two rounds of qualifying.

G-Mac recovered his round brilliantly

Aside from these headline acts there were performances of note from other members of Europe’s elite. Miguel Angel Jimenez further underlined his status as a crowd favourite with a blemish-free round of 66 whilst former US Open champion Graeme McDowell recovered from a double bogey start to match world number three Martin Kaymer at two-under.

Other European hopes Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, and Lee Westwood went rather under the radar with error-strewn battles round the links course, all carding one-over par rounds of 71.

Bjorn and Lewis lead the way into day two with a few players one back and in hot pursuit. Open debutant Webb Simpson is tied for third alongside Jimenez and former US open winner Lucas Glover. A slender lead makes for a great deal of competition over the forthcoming rounds.

Hard-earned cigar for Miguel after a 66

The first day has offered a range of different wind conditions where players were required to take full advantage when the lulls came. It seems likely that whoever manages these variable conditions the best will come out victorious come Sunday evening and the in contention Martin Kaymer may have played the role of prophet in saying that the winner will be whoever holes the most six-foot putts. The second day is bound to serve up some further surprises and one would hope that the golfing gods keep shining down on the talented Tom Lewis as he seeks to defy his inexperience and remain atop the leader board throughout day two.

The Open 2011: Brits amongst the favourites as they take on the world on their own turf

Written on Monday the 11th July:

This weekend’s Open Championship at Royal St.George’s looks set to live up to it’s name and be very open indeed. The field may be lacking favourites of tournaments past such as Tiger Woods and Colin Montgomerie, but things are looking incredibly competitive.

Royal St.Georges plays host for the first time since 2003

Home favourites and world numbers one and two, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, will be looking to make their first major scalps. It seems that both men have a great chance of finally breaking their duck this weekend if the form book proves to be of any relevance.

World number one, Donald, looks a strong bet having put together a magnificent run in 2011. He has gone from strength to strength this year and has very rarely failed to make the top ten, picking up three tournament victories along the way. His most recent victory came just a couple of days ago with a magnificent final round of 63 taking him to a links course triumph. Nobody has ever won the Scottish Open the week before the Open, but Luke will be dreaming of breaking this tradition.

Luke looking to nail down his first major title

Having slid disappointingly down the standings at the Scottish after a classy opening round of 65, Lee Westwood will be hoping to turn the tables this week. He has consistently threatened to succeed over the past few years at the Open and will seek to silence those who have pencilled him in as the nearly man.

Aside from the major British hopes there will be a strong field of contenders seeking to land a major blow. Former champions such as Ernie Els will be looking to land a first major title in a long time, whilst nearly men of the past like Sergio Garcia are coming back into form.

In addition to Els, we should expect to see other strong South African challenges. Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and reigning Open champion Louis Oosthuizen are both performing well at the moment and will fancy their chances of getting into contention come Sunday afternoon.

Can the South Africans follow up recent major successes?

Whoever proves triumphant will have to have successfully adapted to and met the demands of links golf at a course like St.George’s. Last time this course played host to the Championship there were many complaints about the difficulties of the course, and how the course set up was unnecessarily challenging. Though the tournament officials have sought to quash similar fears this time around it seems unlikely that someone can win this title without links preparation.

The unique-ness of links golf is the reason why players such as Rory McIlroy have been criticised for omitting the Scottish Open from their preparations. In an ideal world all players competing in the Open would try and secure some competitive links practice in advance, but of course many of the field have commitments to the PGA Tour in America. McIlroy however, was merely resting. Having bagged his first major title at Congressional just weeks ago, Rory has opted not to play any golf in the lead up to the Open. In spite of this he has remained as the bookies favourite, and we await to see if the rest has served him as well as competitive links practice would have.

Can Rory achieve back-to-back major wins?

All in all, it seems that the British challenge is set-fair for a strong attack at the Open. Beware though of the ‘Dark Horses’. Perhaps more than any other major, the Open has a tendency to conjure up some surprise champions. Could someone again come out of the golfing wilderness and strike lucky at Sandwich in order to become the new Ben Curtis, Todd Hamilton or Louis Oosthuizen.