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Round 3 Recap: Look who blew in
Winds that reached 50 mph hammered Royal Birkdale on Saturday. Sure, Greg Norman leads, but you may need to be introduced to some of his challengers.
SOUTHPORT, England -- It's not uncommon to see an obscure name near the top of the leaderboard at a major championship after 54 holes.
What is uncommon, and nearly unthinkable however, is to see five of them all within six shots of the lead with 18 holes to play in golf's oldest major.
What gives with this crazy 137th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale?
Whatever it is, you can be sure that the Europeans are loving it. Four of the five players we'll be talking about here are from England and one is from Sweden. Simon Wakefield (5 over, fourth place), Ross Fisher and the Swede, Alexander Noren (both 7 over and tied for fifth), as well as Graeme Storm and amateur Chris Wood (8 over and tied for ninth) will all be trying to catch 53-year-old Greg Norman in his attempt to become the oldest major winner in the game's history on Sunday.
Oh yeah, and defending champion Padraig Harrington is tied for second with K.J. Choi at 4 over, just two shots back.
|More Open Championship:|
|Open Championship Video|
|Round 3 Recap|
|Can Shark close it?|
|Harrington's new role|
|Eagle carries resilient Curtis|
|Kim stays calm, in contention|
|Norman in the present|
If you've never heard of Wakefield, Fisher, Noren, Storm and Wood, don't worry, because you're not alone. Their names don't exactly read like a who's who of golf. Collectively, they've played in nine Open Championships, or 13 less than Norman, if you'd prefer.
Combine the age of Noren, 26, and Wood, 20, and you come up with 46, or seven years younger than Norman. Tally up the appearances by this quintet prior to this week and that number is four. Or, two more appearances than Norman has Open wins.
So why haven't we heard of these guys and how did they get on the first page of our Open Championship leaderboard?
Perseverance for starters. Saturday was a day of survival at Royal Birkdale as the winds whipped upwards of 50 mph and none of our Fab Five shot a score worse than 5-over 75. So, they're clearly legit.
Wakefield, who tied for the lowest score of the third round with an even-par 70, is a 34-year-old making his fourth Open start. The only time he made the cut in his previous three starts, Wakefield tied for 48th at Royal Liverppool in 2006. Aside from a second-place showing in the European Tour's CA Open a couple of months ago, Wakefield has had a rather unspectacular 2008 season.
"I'm just obviously hopefully going to sort of try and relax tonight, have a meal with friends and family and just try and get some sleep and not think about it," Wakefield said.
Good luck with that, lad.
"It's obviously going to be difficult to do that," he continued, "but I believe the weather is going to be a bit friendlier tomorrow, so the crowd will be magnificent and I'm sure they'll carry me around."
As for the 27-year-old Fisher, his is a name you'll probably be hearing a lot in the near future if you haven't heard it already. He's won twice on the European Tour in the past two seasons, including the European Open two weeks ago where he beat Sergio Garcia in a seven-shot rout.
Fisher shot a 1-over 71 on Saturday and couldn't have been happier.
"I'm over the moon," said Fisher, who missed the cut in his only other Open last year at Carnoustie. "It was ridiculously tough out there. But I'm highly delighted with my 71. I was a little bit surprised that we kept going [because of the wind]."
Next up, we'd like to introduce you to the Noren. Prior to this week's Open -- Saturday evening, specifically -- the 26-year-old Swede's greatest claim to fame was the fact that his bio appeared one slot in front of Norman's in the Open Championship player guide (it's done in alphabetical order, after all). He's hoping to be in front of Norman on Sunday evening too.
Noren had the highest score of the five previously unknown chaps on Saturday with a 5-over 75, but still has a shot to win. He turned professional in 2005, but has yet to win on the European Tour. Needless to say, a win on Sunday would be very, very Swede.
Storm is a 30-year-old Englishman. His Open experience? Three prior starts that read like this: two missed cuts and a tie for 78th at St. Andrews in 2005. But, after a 2-over 72 in the third round, he's just six shots back at 8 over.
Finally there's Wood, obviously not to be confused with "Woods." He's a mere 20-year-old amateur. According to his bio, Wood stands at 6-feet, 5-inches tall and one of his biggest wins came at the 2007 Russian Open. After a 3-over 73 on Saturday, he's at 8 over and six shots back in "The" Open.
"I love it," said Wood, referring to all the attention he's receiving this week. "That's why you put all the hours in, to be in situations like this. Obviously I'd like to be contending a little bit more in years to come. But this is my first Open and it's just been a great experience."
Someone might want to tell Wood that Royal Birkdale kind of has a thing for young amateur players. English amateur players in particular (see a 17-year-old Justin Rose at Birkdale in 1998 and something about a 50-yard hole-out on the 72nd hole of his first Open for a fourth-place finish).
The European's love it when one of their own gets to hoist the Claret Jug. But with all due respect to Noren and Harrington, it would be extra special for the Brits to see one of their boys -- Wakefield, Fisher, Storm, or Wood -- pull it off on Sunday, because it doesn't happen often for the Brits.
Nick Faldo was the last Englishman to win the Open in 1992. That was at Muirfield in Scotland. In fact, all three of Faldo's Opens were won on Scottish soil (St. Andrews in 2000 and his first win at Muirfield in 1987). You've got to go all the way back to Tony Jacklin in 1969 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes to find the last time an Englishman has won an Open on English soil.
There might not be enough beer in the country to keep all the pubs stocked if a Brit pulls this thing off. But you can be sure that these lads will be playing their bottoms off on Sunday, hoping to see if that is indeed the case.
|SHOT OF THE DAY||ROUND OF THE DAY|
|The eagle made by Ben Curtis on No. 3. Curtis holed his 9-iron from 165 yards for the 2 on the 451-yard hole. The eagle set the tone for a magnificant even-par 70 for Curtis, who at 7 over will have a chance to win the Open for the second time in his career on Sunday.||This honor goes to Simon Wakefield. He shot an even-par 70 on Saturday, which tied for the day's best score. Ben Curtis, Davis Love III and Henrik Stenson also shot 70 in the third round, but Wakefield's stands out because it left him just three shots off the lead at 5 over.|
|EASIEST HOLE||TOUGHEST HOLE|
|The 572-yard, par-5 17th. It played to a scoring average of 4.675. There were two eagles, 36 birdies, 36 pars, seven bogeys, one double bogey and one "other."||The 499-yard, par-4 sixth. During the third round, it played to a scoring average of 4.795 There was one birdie, 26 pars, 45 bogeys and 11 double bogeys.|
|What the leaders said ...|
|Greg Norman||1||2 over||Well, I'd putt it in the top three hardest rounds I've ever played under the circumstances. I've played under tougher weather conditions, but under the circumstances, the third round of a major championship and on the Royal Birkdale golf course, it was just brutal today.|
|Padraig Harrington||T2||4 over||I don't know what to think at this stage. It was one of those days you stayed focused and in the present doing your thing, and I suppose I won't really know what to think too much about it until I sit down and get a rest later on this evening.|
|K.J. Choi||T2||4 over||I will have to try to catch up. I enjoy the golf course and I'm comfortable on this course. Today was tougher than the third round at Carnoustie in 1999 when the winds were 35 mph then, but today was more than that.|
|Simon Wakefield||4||5 over||I think, to be honest, score is irrelevant. I think all you need to do is play each shot as it comes, one shot at a time, and try to commit to that sot and hit it as good as you can.|
LOVING IT: Great rounds were hard to come by in the third round of the 137th Open Championship. In fact, no player recorded a sub-par round on Saturday and only four were able to turn in an even-par 70.
One of those even-par rounds belonged to Davis Love III. Love played his way through a qualifier to earn a spot in the Open Championship and eventually made the 36-hole cut on the number at 9 over.
It didn't matter what time players teed off on Saturday since the wind was howling from the opening shot. Playing early, Love wove through Royal Birkdale and was nearly flawless, making just one bogey, which came on the par-4 11th. The 1997 PGA champion got the lost stroke back with a birdie at No. 17 and after a par on No. 18, he had his 70.
"It's nice to get a good score today," Love said. "A red number today would have been unbelievable and it would've been nice, but I have to be happy with this. I'll just watch the boys on TV now."
This is Love's 22nd consecutive start in an Open Championship -- more than he's played in any other major. Below is a look at how he has fared over the years:
|Year||Course||Finish||Score to par|
|2006||Royal Liverpool Golf Club||CUT||+3|
|2005||Old Course at St. Andrews||CUT||+5|
|2004||Royal Troon G.C.||T-5||-5|
|2003||Royal St. George's G.C.||T-4||+1|
|2001||Royal Lytham & St. Annes G.C.||T-21||-3|
|2000||Old Course at St. Andrews||T-11||-7|
|1998||Royal Birkdale G.C.||8||+5|
|1997||Royal Troon G.C.||T-10||-2|
|1996||Royal Lytham & St. Annes G.C.||CUT||+4|
|1995||Old Course at St. Andrews||T-98||+12|
|1994||Turnberry (Ailsa Course)||T-38||Even|
|1993||Royal St. George's G.C.||CUT||+4|
|1991||Royal Birkdale G.C.||T-44||+5|
|1990||Old Course at St. Andrews||CUT||+4|
|1989||Royal Troon G.C.||T-23||-4|
|1988||Royal Lytham & St. Annes G.C.||CUT||+9|
THE BIG EASY: South Africa's Ernie Els, the winner of the 2002 Open Championship at Muirfield, came into this week as one of the favorites to win. If the wind is still present on Sunday, Els might be able to muster a high finish. But, it's going to be an uphill battle as he'll start the round at 13-over 233.
|0||The number of players left under par through three rounds of the Open Championship.|
|44||David Duval's score on the front nine Saturday, which translates to 10 over.|
|63||The lowest 18-hole score in Open history. Seven players have shot 63 over the years, including Greg Norman in 1986 when he won at Turnberry..|
"It's been a frustrating week on the greens and when you're not making putts it's more frustrating," said Els, who shot a respectable 4-over 74 in the third round. "I had a good back nine but let it slip at the end again. There's been a lot of missed opportunities, lots of missed putts."
Els was thankful that the R&A took the windy conditions into consideration by giving the greens a single cut rather than the usual double cut.
"If they had cut the greens short I don't think we would be playing," he said. "It's blowing hard. They moved some tees up and they've made it playable. If you play proper golf, you can shoot even par."
Els scored his first PGA TOUR win in three years earlier this season at The Honda Classic. Since then, he's been struggling with his game, which is why he'll be paying a visit to his coach after the Open.
"I said to Butch Harmon I'm going to see him for two days in Vegas and work on the short game and get it sharp and I think I'll start scoring then as it's been a tough year," he said. "I'm going back to basics. I've tried different putters and different methods. There's a method that worked for me in the past and I'll go back to that."
THREE THINGS TO LOOK FOR ON SUNDAY...
1. A lot of nervous players. Greg Norman might say he's just going to have fun, but the fact is he's got to be feeling a little nervous with the chance to become the oldest winner in the history of the game.
2. The chance of a surprise winner. The leaderboard is splashed with the names of a lot of players you've probably never heard of. In a way, it's like Carnoustie in 1999 when little-known Paul Lawrie emerged as the winner in a playoff against little-known Jean Van de Velde and 1997 Open champion Justin Leonard. While Lawrie and Van de Velde weren't household names, it could be argued that that final round might be one of the most memorable in Open history.
3. The potential for Padraig Harrington to go back-to-back. There have been six players since 1951 to win the Open in consecutive years. Tiger Woods was the last to turn the trick with wins at St. Andrews in 2005 and Royal Liverpool in 2006. Aside from Woods, the four other players on that list each won one of their Opens at Royal Birkdale. Will that be in the cards for Harrington on Sunday?