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Even leader Greg Norman strugged at times with the effect of the breeze on his putts. (Franklin/Getty Images)

Oscillation leads to frustration on the greens of Birkdale

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The wind whipping off the Irish Sea on Saturday made it difficult for the players to judge the speed of their putts, settle on a line or even know when it was safe to make a stroke.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

SOUTHPORT, England - Oscillate is something a fan usually does, and perhaps that made the word so many players were uttering Saturday after the third round of the 137th Open Championship even more apropos.

Of course, the cool air coming off the Irish Sea was moving with a vengeance as the winds gusted to nearly 50 mph and threatened to cause a suspension of play on more than one occasion.

That never happened, but the competitors often found themselves in a state of suspended animation as balls wobbled in the wind and began to wander on the greens. Sometimes just marking the ball was a challenge as players waited patiently to be sure the ball had come to rest.

The wind made it difficult to judge the speed of the putts or settle on a line. Players also had to be sure not to ground the putter at address because if the wind caused the ball to move before it was struck, there would be a one-stroke penalty.

"I thought it was probably one of the toughest conditions to putt in I've ever experienced, it really was," said Padraig Harrington, the defending champion who will tee off with the 53-year-old leader, Greg Norman, in Sunday's final group. "There was no sense of preparation over any putt.

"By the time you got over it, you still hadn't got any clarity in the line. You still hadn't got any clarity in how hard you were going to hit it because you weren't sure what the wind was going to do to it. So that was probably the toughest part of the day."

Ben Curtis, the 2003 Open champion, agreed. He managed a 70 that was one of four rounds of even par on a day when the average was 75.759. And more winds, with gusts in the 35 mph range are expected on Sunday.

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"Obviously the ball can move, and you've got to pull the trigger pretty quick once you make the decision," Curtis explained. "Number two, I think when you're looking at the hole you've got to be careful the ball doesn't come back and hit your putter or your feet or something.

"The big thing is you've just got to stay patient and not try to guess when to hit it but try to keep a good pace on your stroke. That's the biggest thing, into the wind you have a tendency to have a short backswing and jerk it through, and downwind you do the same thing because the wind holds the putter up on the way back and you can get a little too quick."

Ian Poulter said Saturday's conditions were on the edge of unplayable. Rocco Mediate said it was "close to getting crazy. The wind was really gusting on the greens. They could have made it psycho out there but they did a great job."

Robert Allenby said the toughest weather he had ever experienced was at the 2005 Australian Open, which he won. Until Saturday, that is.

"Am I alllowed to say bloody tough?" asked the Aussie, who will start the final round six back. "Yes? Bloody tough, then. ... It's hard to hit shots where you wanted it to be but putting on the greens was a nightmare. Two occasions I put my coin down on the green and the ball decided to go for a run. It was just hard. The ball was moving. You think it's going to take off."

Simon Wakefield had his ball take an unscheduled trip at the eighth hole. He had just hit a sand wedge to the green - and nearly lost his footing on his follow-through as the wind blew him back. The ball finished pin high on a little mound about 3 or 4 inches off the green. Then the fun began.

"It was difficult to identify whether the ball was on or off the green, and as we were doing that, the wind blew it three or four inches onto the green, so I was obviously able to mark it, but then was not comfortable with playing the putt or hitting the putt because we were getting gusts of 30 miles an hour," Wakefield said.

"And with that green being so exposed and obviously the tournament that we're at, I wasn't prepared to putt with the gusts coming."

So Wakefield, who owns sole possession of fourth, called the referee over and was told that there was a similar situation on the 10th hole involving Anthony Kim. So he waited for an estimated five or 10 minutes for the wind to die down.

"It didn't seem to die down but we got on with it anyway, but I made a good two putt and we moved on," Wakefield said.

And on Saturday, moving on was about the best anyone could do..

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