Friday 24 November 2017

Irish duo storm St Andrews to tee up date with Open destiny

Padraig Harrington watches as his birdie putt makes its way to the hole on the sixteenth green
Padraig Harrington watches as his birdie putt makes its way to the hole on the sixteenth green
Padraig Harrington of Ireland watches his tee shot on the second hole during the third round of the British Open golf championship on the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

A day of glorious, sublime madness but a great day for Irish golf at St Andrews where history-making amateur Paul Dunne and three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington placed themselves in contention to win the 144th Open championship.

Dunne, at 12 under par, topped the leaderboard after three rounds alongside 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and the popular Australian Jason Day.

Harrington's 65 evoked memories of his peak years in 2007-'08 with an impeccable display for ten under par and fifth place, just two shots behind Dunne, Oosthuizen, Day, and Jordan Spieth whose 66 elevated him to 11 under par.

Everything about yesterday at the home of golf was wonderfully bizarre, but ultimately rewarding for the game, for the R&A ,who had to move the final round to today, and for the magnificent galleries, who were treated to a scoring extravaganza.

Saturday's enforced debacle in which play began for a short while only to be suspended for over 10 hours was forgotten, at least by those who had the good fortune to be present yesterday.

In contrast to the gales that lashed the links 24 hours earlier, most of yesterday's play was conducted in very acceptable conditions.

The Old Course lay defenceless and, like hungry predators, the world's top golfers plundered the venerable links.

Ireland's new hero Paul Dunne and the - dare we say it - veteran Padraig Harrington were at the heart of the action.

Dunne, 22, is a few months older than Spieth, who can still emulate Ben Hogan's 1953 feat of winning the season's first three Majors.

The young Irishman, however, has already carved his own niche in Open history by his joint leadership of the championship.

Name the last amateur to lead the Open after three rounds?

The answer is the uber-legend Bobby Jones, back in 1927 when he went on to win the tournament.

Today, the Claret Jug could go anywhere around the globe - South Africa, the USA, Spain, England, Japan, Scotland, and yes, even Ireland.


Take your pick because a blanket of just five shots envelops 25 players from these countries

And right there, in the heart of it, is Greystones' Dunne.

He opened with a driver and a wedge to two feet for birdie at the first. That settled the nerves.

"There was a few shots I was nervous on. I was nervous on the first, just to get the round going, but once I got under way it wasn't too bad.

"And then there was the tee shot on 14, and 17 with the wind off the left with trouble down the right, but apart from those two shots, it really wasn't too bad.

" I just kind of picked conservative enough targets that gave me room either side and then just kind of attacked with my irons and tried to give myself chances.

"I went out there thinking that if I could play sensible and keep the bogeys off my card, you're going to have so many opportunities for birdie that you're bound to make some. I was really pleased to keep the bogeys off the card today," said Dunne.

His demeanour afterwards matched his golf - calm, precise, composed and sensible.

Dunne and his caddie, Alan Murray, head coach at the University of Alabama, kept their cool as the galleries hooted and cheered.

"It feels great. I felt like I had so much support from the crowd today. I kind of felt like I was at home. Every shot I hit was getting cheered from start to finish, so big thanks to the crowd out there.

"They kept me lifted the whole way through. It was great to play with Louis Oosthuizen today. He's obviously a great role model for me, great player, someone I look up to. It was such a fun day," said Dunne.

All six birdies were vital, but so were a couple of crucial par saves.

The first came at the par-4 5th where he was bunkered in two but made a sand save putt from three feet.

On the treacherous 17th, an immaculate 4-iron from 220 yards to 20 feet was followed by a two putt par.

Earlier, Harrington spoke highly of Dunne's performance.

"It is phenomenal. He's led the Open championship a long way into the event as an amateur. That is as rare as it comes.

"Hopefully he continues to play great. Tomorrow will be all about me when I'm on the golf course. If I don't win, I hope he does," said Harrington.

Winning another Open is a welcome prospect for the 43-year-old Dubliner. He's not over the hill yet, but big performances on the days that matter don't come as easily as they did a few years ago.

A 65 - 32-33, no bogeys - on an Open Sunday was just what the doctor ordered, even if it was only the third round.

Harrington stayed in his own little zone and avoided checking out the leaderboards.

"I felt very good today, surprisingly good, relaxed, nicely in it.

"I was really good all the way through, and there was no need to look at a leaderboard. It was going well. I wasn't looking to look up there and be motivated.

"When things are going well you might as well just keep your head down and keep going. There's no point in looking around and getting distracted," he said.

Harrington kept his focus well. There were no slips, and he was delighted to survive a potential setback on the 13th when his ball finished in the rough off his drive.

"It probably was my best shot of the day. I obviously hit it too far left on 13 and I had a blind shot. I had exactly 200 yards, and I hit 4-iron.

"I hit a beautiful shot exactly on the point I was aiming, exactly how I wanted to hit it. It was the nicest shot I hit of the day," he said.

"But as I said, you're going to hit some good ones and some bad ones. That was certainly one to remember."

The lead changed hands several times throughout the afternoon.

Dustin Johnson started on 11 under as overnight leader, but slipped back to seven under after his 75.

Harrington, Paul Dunne, England's Danny Willett, Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Day were all in the frame to be in the last group today before the top finishers were confirmed.

Anyone for a playoff?

The Open, Live, 1.45, BBC 1

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