The Ryder Cup feelgood factor continued unabated in the penultimate round of the dunhill links championship with England’s Luke Donald opening up a two stroke lead over David Howell and Ian Poulter, two of his team-mates in Detroit, and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell as Europe’s young guns continue to dominate the leaderbaord in Scotland.
Donald carded a third round 68, four under par, at Carnoustie to move to 17 under par 199 and edge ahead of the field as he chases his third European Tour title in three months following his previous victories in the Scnadinavian Masters by Carlsberg and the Omega European Masters.
He leads by two from fellow Ryder Cup debutants Howell, who battled for a 71 at Carnoustie, and Poulter, who forced his way into contention with a brilliant seven under par 65 at Carnoustie, the best round of the day on all three courses. McDowell, playing at Kingsbarns, joined the English pair on 15 under par with a five under par 67.
The Scottish crowd also had plenty to cheer about at the Home of Golf as Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher tore round the Old Course at St Andrews in 66 shots to lie in fifth place on 14 under par.
World Number Two Ernie Els, his confidence high after his victory last week in Ireland, is also threatening after a 68 round a cold and breezy Carnoustie left him on 12 under par 204 alongside Australian Marcus Fraser, Argentina’s Angel Cabrera and England’s John Bickerton.
Donald dropped only the one shot at Carnoustie, regarded by most as the hardest of the three courses involved in the dunhill links championship. A birdie on the first got him off to the perfect start and when Howell bogeyed the third he moved into a lead he never relinquished.
“I’m very pleased with my round today,” said the 26 year old. “This is the harder of the three courses. It is tougher off the tee and you have to think about every shot. At St Andrews you can take one side of play out but here you can’t. You really have to thread it through bunkers. I found a couple of bunkers, one on the sixth hole but made par and otherwise a very good round.
“I think the Ryder Cup was a huge boost of confidence. You can see it with David Howell, finishing third last week. He said he wasn’t intimidated by playing with Els and Björn in the last round because of the Ryder Cup experience. It is great to see the guys playing well.”
Donald now has a third title of the year within his grasp, something he admitted would have been beyond his wildest dreams a few months ago when he decided to rejoin The European Tour. “I had a good year in America prior to coming over here but coming here has really opened some doors for me. I have felt very comfortable playing in Europe and played well because of it.”
Poulter, refreshed after talking a break last week to recover from his Ryder Cup exploits, bogeyed the first after attempting to fly the ball to the green rather than play a links style bump and run. When he horseshoed the full 360 degrees on the second the 28 year old thought it was going to be one of those days but three birdies in the next four holes got him up and running. But it was on the back nine he made his score, picking up four birdies in the five holes after the turn and then birdieing the last for a fine seven under par 65 to join the Ryder Cup party at the top of the leaderboard.
“I think the Ryder Cup has pushed me on a bit, but in many ways you have to forget that week – however much of a buzz it was,” said Poulter. “I want to win tournaments, and get world ranking points to improve my position. It’s lovely looking back at it, but you can’t keep doing that – you need to concentrate on the present.”
Howell, riding the crest of a wave since The Ryder Cup and finishing third in the World Golf Championships – American Express Championship last weekend, has enjoyed a love affair with the dinhill links championship, finishing third in 2001 amd sixth last year. He is again in the chasing pack as he looks for his first title since the Dubai Desert Classic in 1999.
“Last week was a big week for me, third in a world championship event and up there again this week with a chance to win,” said Howell. “I’m delighted and looking forward to tomorrow.
“I didn’t cope that well with the cold today. It was very hard to get into any rhythm. I am pleased with one under with the way I played but I would have liked to have felt more comfortable.”
McDowell, winner in Italy earlier this season, continues to impress, using all his knowledge of growing up at Royal Portrush to finish strongly at Kingsbarns with three successive birdies from the 14th to join the English duo at 15 under par.
“I have actually played pretty similar all three days, although yesterday I hit it in the wrong places a couple of times. But today was back to business. I really controlled the ball well and dodged the bunkers as you have got to do around here. I am holing putts, been holing them all week. I am making a lot of birdies which is a lot of fun.”
Gallacher, the nephew of Bernard Gallacher, leads the Scots charge and also leads the Team Compeition alongside Sir Martyn Arbib, founder of the investment company Perpetual. Horses are listed among Sir Martyn’s interests and his first horse, Snurge, won the 1990 St Leger, but this week he has shown he is a pretty handy golfer of a handicap of 13.
“Sir Martyn Arbib is good to play with and he is certainly enjoying it too because he has holed three shots in the days that I have been playing with him. He holed his third shot at Kingsbarns yesterday and he holed his eight iron at the tenth today for a two, that was our first hole. I think he has had five net eagles in total.
“It’ll be a big day for me tomorrow, no question. But I am just going to try and go out and enjoy it.”