The dunhill links championship is set for a thrilling finish at St Andrews after a third round that produced some of the most exciting play on this season’s European Tour International Schedule over three of the best courses in the world – climaxing with an unbelievable albatross at Kingsbarns from Englishman Lee Westwood, that put him into a one shot lead ahead of an illustrious international leaderboad.
The winner of the Volvo Order of Merit three years ago fired an flawless course record 62 at Kingsbarns, finishing with a perfect four iron from 218 yards that gave him a three round total of 16 under par 200, and a one shot lead from Northern Irishman Darren Clarke – who had 66 at the same venue – and Raphael Jacquelin from France, who equaled Colin Montgomerie’s course record 64 at Carnoustie.
New Zealander Michael Campbell, the recent Nissan Irish Open Champion, lies alone in fourth place on 14 under after his own 66 at Kingsbarns, while South African Richard Sterne and Scotsman Simon Yates are tied for fifth after their respective rounds of 65 and 66 at Carnoustie gave them a shared total of 13 under 203.
With a further seven players tied on 12 under, including former Open champions Ernie Els and Paul Lawrie, the Old Course at St Andrews is set for another wonderful finish to this unique celebration of links golf.
Westwood, who holed in one with the same four iron last week in the Linde German Masters, is enjoying his renaissance that saw him win the BMW International Open last month – and is delighted to be back among the best after two seasons in the wilderness.
“Things are going my way at the moment,” he said, after signing for his brilliant, bogey free 62. “They didn't for a while. As the old Lee Trevino saying goes, you make your own lot. They always say that when you're playing well, the breaks go your way, things are going your way.
“As soon as I hit it my second shot at the ninth, I knew it was a great shot, pretty much the same as last week. It was right on line. Probably started two yards right on line at the flag, there was not much wind and it's quite cold. I knew where it landed just short of the slope and run up there and skipped on.
“The hole in one last week was 224 yards and slightly into the wind, while today there was no wind, so it was six yards short. I haven't had an albatross before – not even in practice. I'm absolutely delighted about that. I thought I was going to go my whole career without an albatross.”
Westwood credits the coaching prowess of David Leadbetter for getting him back on track on the golf course, and is simply looking forward to continuing his wonderful form for the final round of the dunhill links championship at St Andrews – a venue he knows will test both his physical and mental abilities to the very limit.
“When I first went to see David Leadbetter, he sat me down instead of standing on the range, and saying ‘try this, try this, try this’. He had a clear, identifiable path that made a lot of sense to me and a good route to go down. That was the eureka moment. I could see where I was coming from and where we were going to.
“I didn't have any ideas about how long it would take to get back to playing well again but I would say back at the beginning of February it was coming together, and every time I've been to see him since, the script never changes. We work from the same idea and it's great.
“The Old Course tomorrow will be great – you have to learn to appreciate it and like it. Occasionally you have to take a chance. It's a very good risk/reward course. Take a chance, hit it down the right and it opens up the flag. It really tests you mentally more than anything. It tests your patience when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive.”
Clarke – the only man apart from Tiger Woods to have won two WGC events – admitted he could have gone lower at Kingsbarns, but, after picking up six birides, an eagle and two bogeys, he was content to be in with a chance of taking both the individual title and the team prize alongside Irishman Dermot Desmond.
“I had a few chances at the end,” he said, “I probably left three or four out there, left a couple right in the jaws but that happens sometimes but on behalf of the team, fortunately Desmond was there to knock them in for us when I missed out.
“I said to Dermot at the start of the week, the best thing for us would be to go into Sunday with a chance of winning both competitions and that is what we have managed to do so far. Dermot has played well and has made some big putts at the right times – that makes all the difference to the team.
“I played nicely again today, as I said I left a few out there, my pace was a little off on the greens. Sometimes with these greens you hit good shots but with the severity of the slopes you don’t always get the rewards and I managed to get on the wrong side of some of them.”
Jacquelin was overjoyed at equaling the course best at Carnoustie, and is now in the hunt to pick up his maiden victory on The European Tour. The Frenchman, like Westwood, didn’t drop a single stroke during his third round that finished with three straight birdies to propel him into a tie for second.
“The weather today was just unbelievable. There was no wind, the sun was shining and it was almost warm at points! I didn’t make any mistakes today – apart from missing a short putt for birdie on the 18th, my ninth hole today but I did have a few very good putts today – especially on the 17th were I had a very tricky one from about eight metres down the slope. Then I holed from 10 metres on the third so it was a great day for me on the greens.
“I would love to win this event – it would be a fantastic competition to win for the first time, especially with the players that are playing here this week. You see names like Westwood, Clarke, Els and Campbell and think ‘that’s where I want to be – at that level’.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow at St Andrews. I know St Andrews quite well – I have played two dunhill cups there and then have played this tournament for the past two years, but I think I will be sending my caddie out early in the morning to have a look at everything and the way it is set up. I think I will be a little nervous but I expect that. It should help me to concentrate on my game as well.”
Amazingly, that albatross from Westwood was not the only one of the day at Kingsbarns. Denmark’s Steen Tinning holed his own four iron second shot from 212 yards at the third two. It was the fourth albatross on The European Tour International Schedule 2003 following Chris Gane (The Daily Telegraph/Damovo British Masters), Graeme McDowell (Open de France) and Robert-Jan Derksen (Nordic Open), before Westwood added number five to take the lead of this fantastic competition.