Stewart Ginn leads The Senior Open Championship, presented by Aberdeen Asset Management, after emerging from another testing day fighting the elements at Muirfield with a one shot lead – but the Australian is being chased hard by two former Open Champions, Tom Watson and Mark O’Meara, and a clustered top ten all within six shots of him.
European Seniors Tour Member Ginn, with local Gullane resident Alan Morin on his bag for the first time, specifically for this event, defied the testing conditions with a brilliant two under par 69 to stake his claim for the Senior Claret Jug by finishing on three under par 210 for 54 holes.
Eight times Major Champion Watson is perched on his shoulder, after grinding out a 70, for a two under par 211 total, while 1998 Masters Tournament and Open Champion Mark O’Meara carded the only other under par score, a 70, to reach level par 213.
Argentina’s Eduardo Romero is a shot further back on one over par after a 73, and there are two more European Seniors Tour Members – Sam Torrance of Scotland and Gordon J Brand of England – in the top eight.
Overnight leader, Ireland’s Des Smyth, fell away with a 77 to end up four over par on 217, the score England's Nick Faldo is also on after he shot a 75 due to ongoing struggles on the greens.
However, the third day at Muirfield belonged firmly to Ginn, who has two top five finishes on the European Seniors Tour this season, and whose run of birdies on 15 and 16 took him to the outright lead.
Speaking after his round, Ginn, who recovered from starting with two bogeys, said: “It’s not easy out there, as all you guys know. It’s a course you have to be patient with and do the best you can out there.
“I mean, you’ve got the best Senior players in the world here – Watson and O’Meara are both Open Champions – so I know who’s here and what it’s going to take. There are a lot of guys chasing me, but I haven’t got time to think about that. What’s going to be is going to be. You’ve just got to play golf and you’re in the golf God’s hands.”
Yet Ginn has found capable helping hands in the form of his new caddie, as Morin clubbed him expertly to set up the crucial birdies on 15 and 16 – the Australian rolling in two beautiful strokes – and then acting as a steadying influence over the closing two holes.
“We go back to 1972 and Open qualifying for the Open here. I came over with a few other Aussie professionals, Jack Newton, Ian Stanley, Bob Shearer, and stayed at Alan’s father’s place in Gullane. So when I came back, I thought I’d ask Alan to come on the bag, He knows this course far better than me, he lives in Gullane, and it’s working well so far," explained Ginn. "We’re both enjoying it. It’s exciting. We’re right in it."
Ginn won the Ford Senior Players’ Championship on the US Champions Tour in 2002 but ranks The Senior Open Championship higher. “This is an Open Championship, and I think everybody, doesn’t matter what part of the world they are from, sees it that way. The Ford Senior is not an Open Championship. I class this as a Major.”
The customary ‘moving day’ is normally about forging ahead, not survival. Yet on another cold, blustery day at Muirfield, with the added problem of heavy rain that started at 4.20pm and lasted for 30 minutes, it was all about not dropping too far back in the tough conditions.
As bogeys and birdies came and went, the lead changed hands regularly, with six players tied at the top at one point, before Ginn, Watson and O'Meara emerged as the golfers who handled the awful weather best.
Once the rain passed, it became benign – and the respite was taken advantage of over the closing holes by all three.
Watson, who birdied 13 after hitting a six iron to three feet to recharge his round after dropping a shot on the 11th, also birdied 17, and says the determination to win a third Senior Open Championship, and emulate his Open win of 1980 at Muirfield, is very strong.
“It still burns a lot. I said many times the reason I am out here still is to compete. I’d like to make amends for what I did at the US Senior Open, frankly. I’d like to shoot 33 on the back nine instead of 43. So tomorrow is proving ground, and I’m putting good again,” said Watson, who led with nine holes to go at the US Senior Open but shot a 43 on the back nine to finish fourth.
O’Meara, who started one over par, chipped in on the 16th to go back to that score, and birdied 17 as well to go to level par, evoking memories of his stealthy play in 1998 at Royal Birkdale when he moved unassumingly through the field to eventually win The Open Championship.
O’Meara said: “I’ve played golf for 26 years now and I think you all know my passion for links golf. To play here is a real treat. I wish I could have finished it a little bit better, but hopefully I’ll play well tomorrow and give myself an opportunity.”
Double European Seniors Tour Order of Merit winner Torrance had the support of the Scottish galleries and, on the way in, birdied 17 but gave it back on 18 for his 71. He said: “It’s a good score. I played solid and had a chance to shoot 67-68 easily, but it’s the Open and it’s tough. This is a great test of golf. Everyone likes testing conditions and these are testing.
“I missed so many putts it was scary. I three putted 12 and missed from four feet on 13, just missed on 15 and how my putt on 16 did not go in, I don’t know. But these are things you have to contend with and absolutely, I would have taken this position at the start of the week.
“I just want to go out there and play well tomorrow. I was there going into the final round of the US Open, so I know what it feels like and it will great. I’m looking forward to it.”
Defending champion Loren Roberts suffered the same dropped shot at the last, but was still delighted to be in contention when, after 27 holes, it appeared he would be missing the cut.
Roberts credited a swing thought he found on the ninth tee in round two for his Open turnaround. Seven over par on the tenth tee, he duly shot the best back nine of the day, a three under par 32 on the back nine, and finished four over par.
He continued his progress on in round three, going out in 34, and back in 37, for a 70 and three over par total.
The American said: “It’s far from over, but we’ll have to see what happens. It looked like yesterday I might not be around for the weekend, so you never know.”
Faldo, co-leader after his 68 on day one, endured another difficult day on the greens. Having ditched the belly putter for a conventional weapon but the lack of confidence in his stroke was still in evidence.
A solitary birdie on the fifth hole was sandwiched by bogeys at the first, fourth and sixth holes in an outward 38, and he dropped another stroke on the tenth after a lacklustre iron approach from the middle of the fairway. However, a birdie on the 13th took the two times Open Champion at Muirfield back to two over par, before he gave shots back on the 15th and par three 16th, missing a short par putt. Faldo eventually signed for a 75 to finish on four over par.