Friday, 19 March 2010

Greg Norman's fairytale run at The 137th Open Championship continued with a third round 72 ensuring he will take a two-shot lead over the defending champion Padraig Harrington and K J Choi into the final round at Royal Birkdale.

Some 22 years after his first Open triumph at Turnberry in 1986, the 53 year old Australian is now just 18 holes away from becoming the oldest-ever Major winner in what would be the most remarkable of stories.

Norman, who stands at two over par, will head out in Sunday's final pairing with Harrington whose title defence remains on track after a battling 72.

“I'd put it in the top three hardest rounds I've ever played under the circumstances,” said Norman after some five hours battling the ferocious winds. “I've played under tougher weather conditions, but under the circumstances, the third round of a Major Championship and on the Royal Birkdale golf course, it was just brutal today.”

“I've obviously got a chance tomorrow,” he added. “But there's a lot of golf to be played, 18 holes to play around here.  Padraig Harrington obviously played well today to get himself in the position he's in.  He obviously played extremely well the last 36 holes. 

“K.J. Choi, very impressed with him today, his demeanor, his attitude, his ball striking.  He's always going to be a force to be reckoned with tomorrow and going forward.  He could have been a couple, three shots better, but I'm sure everybody could have said the same thing.

“I've got to go out there and play my game, and I'll answer a lot of different questions tomorrow night if I have to.”

Harrington is just two shots off the pace, however, along with overnight leader Choi who carded a 75.

“It was one of those days you stayed focused and in the present doing your thing,” said Harrington, seeking to become the first European to defend the title since 1906.
 
“I'm happy with the score.  It could have been a little bit better, but tough conditions.  I certainly would have taken that going out there.  I thought it was probably one of the toughest conditions to putt in I've ever experienced.”

Looking ahead to the final round and comparisons with his victory at Carnoustie, he added: “I'd love to tell you that I'll do everything the same as last year and play the same that I did last year.  I will attempt to do all those things, but I have to realise and be big enough that I might not necessarily be in that zone tomorrow, but maybe I don't have to be, either.  As I said, it is a slightly different day, and we'll go out there and battle away and try and keep the focus and stay patient and do all the cliché things that you're meant to do and see if I've got the experience to manage to do it.”

Englishman Simon Wakefield climbed into fourth on his own at five over par after a best-of-the day 70, the same score as 2003 Champion Ben Curtis who heads a group of four at seven over par that also includes Ross Fisher, Anthony Kim and Alexander Noren.

Although the rain of the first couple of days stayed away, 40-50mph winds ensured that Birkdale played as hard as it had done all week.

Officials responded by bringing forward some of the tees on the more testing par-fours, but high scores remained the norm throughout the day with putting proving particularly testing.

Indeed, the exposed tenth caused real difficulties with play held up at one point as the pairing of Kim and Fisher consulted referees after seeing their balls repeatedly move after being placed.

However, Henrik Stenson and Davis Love III both proved that par-golf was possible as they also matched the 70 of Wakefield early on in the day to haul themselves into contention at eight over and nine respectively.

The day, though, belonged to Norman who cut a relaxed figure throughout and enjoyed the majority of the support from the huge galleries who turned out.

Things did not start auspiciously for the Australian as bogeys at the first and the third allowed partner Choi to open up a three-shot lead early on.

Harrington responded with a chip-in for birdie at the fifth and a fine two for another at seven to sweep into second on his own at one-over.

But things had closed up by the turn with a double-bogey for Choi at six and another bogey at the eighth opening the door for his rivals.

With Norman making a fine birdie at eight following a delightful pitch and Harrington bogeying the same hole, there was a four-way tie for the lead at two-over with Jim Furyk's consistent front nine of 34 ensuring he joined the fight at the top of the leaderboard.

All five of the final pairings were then forced into an extended wait at the tenth tee as Swede Freddie Jacobsen waited some 20 minutes for a referee's ruling after his ball had apparently moved from its lie in the bunker. The pause seemed to disrupt the momentum of the leaders with Norman, Choi and Furyk all going on to take double-bogey sixes at the hole.

Furyk never really recovered his momentum and eventually took 43 shots on the way home, signing for a 77 that leaves him seven off the pace.

But it proved Norman's last real mistake as he produced flawless golf playing the last eight holes in two under par.

A superb tee-shot set up a birdie two at the 14th and he came agonisingly close to an eagle at the 17th  before his putt died just short of the hole leaving him to settle for a tap-in four.

Harrington endured a double-bogey five at the 12th but responded with birdies at both the par-fives at 15 and 17 to keep himself very much in contention.

A memorable day for Norman was nearly complete when his chip across the 18th green almost dropped in for another birdie, but he touched home for a closing par that ensures the destiny of The 137th Open Championship remains very much in his hands.

 

 

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