Justin Rose and Padraig Harrington will spearhead The European Tour challenge in the final round of the Masters Tournament.
On a brutally difficult Saturday at Augusta National, where bitterly cold winds allied to lightning fast greens made scoring incredibly difficult, the duo emerged relatively unscathed and in with a serious opportunity of slipping the Green Jacket onto their shoulders come Sunday night.
Rose battled to a three over par 75 for a three over par total of 219 which left him tied in second place with World Number One Tiger Woods, the duo both one shot behind leader Australian Stuart Appleby, who survived a triple bogey seven at the 17th to card a 73 for a two over par total 218.
Harrington, like Rose, ground out a 75 to move into a three way tie for fourth place with Americans Zach Johnson and Vaughn Taylor on four over par 220 and will partner Rose in the second last pairing of the final day. Behind, in the last match, Woods will partner Appleby.
The good news for the European Tour contingent is the fact that eight other Members all feature in the top 23 going into the final day of the season’s first Major Championship – Bradley Dredge (221), Retief Goosen (222), Luke Donald (222), Jeev Milkha Singh (223), Vijay Singh (223), Lee Westwood (224), Paul Casey (224) and Henrik Stenson (225).
Although in a normal tournament it may seem outlandish to suggest that all of them might have a chance, given the way the scoring has been going in Georgia, it would be foolish to count anyone out.
One look at the statistics for the third round prove that; namely with a scoring average of 77.350, it was the second highest in 25 years and not a single player stood under par at the end of the day, the first time that has occurred since 1966.
However, while they all have a glimmer of hope, the best chance lies with Rose and Harrington.
Rose has been in the upper echelons of the leaderboard all week but looked like he may be slipping out of matters when he dropped shots at the first two holes. But he knuckled down and although four other shots went in the back nine, he offset those with three birdies to keep himself very much in the hunt.
“Obviously I got off to a bad start and it was somewhat reminiscent of my third round three years ago which some people may remember after I was leading the tournament,” he said.
“But what really pleased me today was that that didn’t really affect me and I stayed patient and played one shot at a time and managed to create a little bit of momentum on the back nine. That gave me a lot of confidence and I played well from there.”
Like Rose, Harrington also got off to a poor start and was two over par for the first five holes. But like the Englishman, the Irishman stuck to his task and although he dropped two shots at the 15th where he found the water in front of the green, he kept plugging away and a superb birdie three at the 17th put him firmly back in contention.
“I did enjoy the day, no question about it and no matter what was happening out there I stuck in and tried to enjoy it and the questions which were being asked of me,” he said. “I was making an effort to do that because I knew that was going to give me the best chance of playing well.”
Leader Appleby started with three birdies at the second, third and fourth holes and proceeded to try and hang on to his score as conditions toughened. He nearly made it, before disaster struck at the 17th.
Having driven into a fairway bunker, he found a greenside bunker with his third shot and, after having escaped that, he then proceeded to three putt for a triple bogey seven. But he held his nerve well and parred the last to give him his best chance of a Major success since he lost out in a play-off to Ernie Els for The Open Championship at Muirfield in 2002.
“Looking ahead to tomorrow, it is going to be a very interesting day for me,” he said. “It will be a real fight, really really tough for me and tough for everyone. But I am going to try and focus on enjoying tomorrow. I’ve found out that the best play comes from relaxing and enjoying it and just taking what comes.”