Friday, 19 March 2010

Just days after an injured wrist had Padraig Harrington doubting his ability to defend The Open Championship, it seems his grip on the Claret Jug is tighter than ever.

The Irishman, who was two over par at the start of the day and three behind leader K J Choi, has maintained his score after nine holes to take a share of the lead with Jim Furyk, Greg Norman and Choi, who dropped three shots in his first nine holes.

A double bogey on the sixth did the bulk of the damage for the Korean, but a second dropped shot on the eighth has allowed the chasing pack to catch up. 

America's Furyk shot back-to-back birdies from the eighth to nullify bogeys on the fourth and sixth, while Greg Norman, who fell back to fourth on three over after three bogeys in seven holes, birdied the eight to go two over.

Tournament debutant Camilo Villegas, the Colombian who had finished his best-of-the-week 65 on Friday with a magical five successive birdies, is fifth on five over.

Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell was in a share of sixth on six over, coming back from an opening three-putt double bogey six and bogey on the third with a birdie at the 346 yard fifth. Further dropped shots at the sixth and ninth have put him four over for the round.

England's Ian Poulter was making a determined bid to stay well in touch as well. After 12 holes he stood six over, giving him a share of seventh.

Fierce though the wind had been on Thursday the forecast even then was that Saturday afternoon would be worse and so it proved.

The tees at the sixth, 11th and 16th had been moved forward 13, 78 and 68 yards respectively as a result.

Ben Curtis, the American who was playing his very first Major and was ranked 396th in the world when he won this event in 2003, posted a level par 70 to take a share of 12th on seven over.

Highlight for the 31-year-old was a 165 yard nine iron to the third which he initially did not like, but ended up loving because it went in for an eagle two.

In stark contrast to that Justin Rose, back on the links where as a 17 year old amateur he finished a spectacular fourth ten years ago, came to grief with an outward 42 containing a double bogey on the fifth and six bogeys.

Two more dropped shots quickly followed to leave him 16 over, while 2001 champion David Duval, joint fourth at halfway despite making only one cut all year and being 1,087th in the world, fell to 12 over after nine holes.

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