Darren Clarke, the Northern Irishman who has finished second and third in The Open in the last 14 years, holds a slender one stroke lead at the end of the third day at Royal St George’s. His one under round of 69 keeps him just ahead of American Dustin Johnson, with Thomas Bjorn and young Californian Ricky Fowler tied two shots further back in third place. Miguel Angel Jimenez and 2009 US Open champion Lucas Glover share fifth place at one under. Only those six players finished under par after 54 holes.
The third round of the 140th Open Championship was a day of two distinct periods. The driving rain and strong winds of the morning giving way to a warm, sunny, dry and calmer late afternoon and early evening. Yet the man who made the most progress played in the worst of the conditions.
Rickie Fowler, a 22-year-old from California, played the round of the day. His remarkable two under par 68 brought him swiftly through the field from joint 19th into a tie for third place with Thomas Bjorn as the majority of those who played later in the day mostly failed to improve on their overnight scores.
One who did was his fellow American Dustin Johnson, a 27-year-old from South Carolina. He matched Fowler’s score of 68 late in the day to hold second place on his own. Johnson failed to make the cut in his first Open Championship at Turnberry in 2009, but tied for 14th last year in St Andrews. The 2007 Walker Cup team member joined the US PGA Tour in 2008 and has won a tournament each year since.
Clarke’s score could have been so much better. He hit the ball solidly from tee to green but missed a handful of short putts. He opened with a birdie at the first and matched birdies and bogeys to reach the turn in level par 35. In the calmer conditions of the second nine he had a string of eight pars and a birdie at the 12th.
“Tee to green was very good, on the greeens not so good,” admitted Clarke after his round. “However if someone had given me a 69 before I went out I would have bitten their hand off. We got lucky with the weather, but I did play very well. I’m very excited. The Open is the biggest and best event in the world and it’s great to have another chance to win it.”
From a field of 71, only three players finished with sub-par rounds and one with level par. Some were as many as 13 strokes adrift. In the brutal early part of the day a realistic par was probably as high as 74. Tom Watson was out in the thick of the storm but his dream of being in close contention in yet another Open Championship died as the weather improved. Despite a remarkable round of 72 in the very worst conditions his early total of 214 is nine shots off the pace.
The battle for amateur honours and the Silver Medal is still led by 20-year-old Tom Lewis who shared the first round lead with Thomas Bjorn on 65. He had a 76 today and is five over for the Championship, two shots clear of America’s Peter Uihlein who returned a 75 in the bad weather.