Sport Golf

Thursday 22 February 2018

McDowell in Open shake-up after sparkling 67

Dermot Gilleece at Royal Lytham

In a role designed only for the brave, Graeme McDowell swept into familiar territory as joint leading challenger to Adam Scott after the third round of the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham yesterday.

The sight of clear, sunny skies accompanied by a gentle breeze from the north-west, came as a decidedly pleasant treat on both sides of the fairway ropes.

And McDowell's sparkling 67 left him tied second with Brandt Snedeker, a position similar to that at Pebble Beach two years ago, when he became the first European since 1970 to capture the US Open crown.

On that occasion, he entered the final round in second place, three strokes behind the leader, Dustin Johnson. And then, as now, Tiger Woods was a stroke further back in third place. Indeed a measure of McDowell's standing is that this is the second successive Major in which he enters the fourth round in the final pairing, having finished joint second behind Webb Simpson in last month's US Open at The Olympic Club.

In anticipation of benign conditions, the course was prepared accordingly, with quite nasty pin placements, some of them on the sides of subtle slopes, and green speeds of 11.2 on the Stimpmeter were significantly up on Friday's pace. Yet McDowell felt afterwards that the renowned links had remained "a sleeping giant", which left him decidedly unhappy about his slow start.

"I felt the tournament slipping away from me after seven holes," he admitted. His mood was changed dramatically by a birdie on the 416-yard eighth, which he reduced to a two-iron, nine-iron and a 10-foot putt. Then, having got back to par for the day, he proceeded to make some delightful swings on the homeward journey for the reward of birdies on the 13th, 14th and 17th.

"Throw in a bit of a wind across this course tomorrow and Adam will have to work a lot harder," he added. "He will have to go and win. He's going to have to win it anyway, for sure."

With Steve Williams on his bag, Scott will not be short of crucial guidance in quest of the Claret Jug, given that the New Zealander was on Woods' bag for Open triumphs at St Andrews in 2000 and 2005 and at Hoylake in 2006. But the Australian is still venturing into uncharted territory, given that nobody has yet won a Major using the broomhandle putter.

And the possibility of ultimate success for Scott won't sit too easily with the game's legislators from the Royal and Ancient. In fact chief executive, Peter Dawson, has indicated a review of the long-putter situation by themselves and their colleagues in the US Golf Association, probably within months.

Meanwhile, as overnight leader Snedeker began to feel the pressure of the occasion, Woods adopted an especially menacing position at seven-under-par for the championship. After six successive pars, however, a bogey on the 462-yard 15th was quite revealing.

Sticking to a safety-first strategy of iron off the tee, he was left with an approach of 238 yards which he left woefully short of the target. And faced with a putt of 80 feet from off the green, he was punished with a three-putt bogey. Yet he remained upbeat after a level-par 70.

"After a bad start, I battled back and got myself back into the mix," he said.

As to the challenge of breaking through at this level, eight-time Major winner Tom Watson remarked: "You just don't know how pressure affects your swing until you're in it; until you're swimming without a life-preserver. And that's the only way to learn."

That, of course, is a matter for Scott and Snedeker. McDowell has already learned how to stay afloat.

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