Johnston beefs up the chase for the Claret Jug
To cries of “Beeeef!” from the grandstands surrounding the 18th green, Andrew Johnston walked off a very happy man after the third round of The 145th Open at Royal Troon today.
Johnston, as distinctive a character as you could hope to meet, in both looks and personality, found himself occupying fourth place on the leaderboard and soaring to rarefied heights.
The 27-year-old Englishman had just come in with a score of 70, his third sub-par round of the week, and was revelling in the attention. The fans, who call his nickname whenever he hovers into view, have taken him to their hearts this week. And he has taken them to his.
Johnston played all 18 holes with a smile on his face, acknowledged the cheers, and slapped hands with the fans outside the ropes. He has been living the dream – “Man, I’m loving it,” he said, and is providing rich entertainment in the process.
When it comes to the shots, however, there is no lack of concentration. He won for the first time on the European Tour this year at the Spanish Open and is looking for more of the same. “Once I’m playing a shot it’s down to business,” he said in an accent described as ‘urban’ north London. Every sentence, it seems, ends with a chuckle or a full-on laugh.
“It’s been amazing. I absolutely love it,” he said. “If a thousand people come and watch, and if they really enjoy themselves, that’s what it’s all about. You want them to go home with good memories.”
Much of the attention centres on his beard – “It definitely needs a trim” - and his physique – “I have no idea how much I weigh” – but he finds the questions funny and brushes them aside.
This week he has his mother, his girlfriend, his sister, his five-year-old niece, Summer, and a number of friends following him every step of the way. He can hear Summer calling out, “Come on Uncle Beef!” and he feeds off it.
With rounds of 69, 69 and 70 he lies on five under par and will be paired tomorrow with America’s Bill Haas. Ahead of them are Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson, who look to have turned the chase for the Claret Jug into a two-horse race. Stenson tops the leaderboard on 12 under par, with Mickelson one stroke behind. It promises to be quite a day.