When The Open returns to Royal St George’s in July, the vast majority of the 156-man field will surely hope the weather is better than it was on the weekend of the Championship’s previous visit to Sandwich.
Wet and windy conditions made scoring tough for large parts of the third and fourth rounds 10 years ago, particularly for those unfortunate enough to be out early on Saturday.
July 16, 2011 was to prove one of the most testing days at an Open in recent memory, although two players born almost 40 years apart were nevertheless able to produce standout performances.
Early starters “blown off the golf course”
As torrential rain and gusting gales blew across Royal St George’s at the start of the third round, it was immediately apparent that the morning starters would face a herculean task in attempting to close the gap on overnight leaders Darren Clarke and Lucas Glover.
“Saturday morning was hell for the guys,” said Thomas Bjorn, who escaped the worst of the conditions due to his placing in the third-last group of the day.
“We knew that it was going to be just absolute mayhem, and they just got blown off the golf course.”
The scores of those who went out early painted a clear picture of just how tough things were. None of the first 15 players to take to the course bettered 74, while only one player in the initial 30 groups broke the par of 70.
The man swimming against the tide – in only his second appearance at The Open - was a 22-year-old Rickie Fowler.
“Saturday morning was hell for the guys ... they just got blown off the golf course.” Thomas Bjorn
Fowler finds a way
In the circumstances, Fowler’s two-under 68 represented a truly superb effort.
Playing alongside fellow rising star Rory McIlroy, the young American kept his card relatively clean in the toughest weather, before surging into contention with three birdies in his last six holes as the conditions eased late in the day.
The only other players to break 70 – Dustin Johnson (68) and Clarke (69) – benefited from later tee times. Fowler played a significant chunk of his round in dire conditions, and he proved more than equal to the challenge as he climbed to third on the leaderboard.
“He’s special,” said Bjorn. “He’s got a way about him as a person that’s brilliant and then he’s got the golf game to back it up. That was a very special round and probably the best round of the week.”
Wonderful Watson shines again
Another notable performance on day three of The 140th Open came from five-time Champion Golfer Tom Watson.
Two years on from his staggering performance at Turnberry, where he was ultimately beaten in a play-off by Stewart Cink, Watson showed he was still capable of competing with the game’s best at the age of 61.
Despite facing the worst of the conditions, Watson went round in 72, the joint-best score of anyone out in the first 19 groups.
“My 72 was pretty good for an old guy,” said the Kansas City native with a smile.
“When you get older, and you’ve played enough links golf, you learn how to deal with it, to accept it if you’re going to be successful at it. The older the player, the more comfortable you are with those uncertainties and the way the game has to be played.”
Scoring average soars as Clarke holds firm
Even though the wind and rain eventually cleared in the afternoon, the scoring average at the end of round three was more than four shots over par at 74.69, a significant rise from the previous two days when the average scores were 72.03 and 72.97.
More inclement weather arrived on Sunday, leading to a scoring average of 73.61 for the final day as only four players ended the week under par.
Bjorn finished one under par for the Championship, a shot behind Johnson and Phil Mickelson at two under, but there was no stopping Clarke as the Northern Irishman claimed a long-awaited first major title.
Weekend rounds of 69 and 70 enabled Clarke to post a five-under aggregate and secure the Claret Jug.