Donald and Westwood rue chances
Englishmen mount impressive challenge but then fall away as demanding course takes its toll over closing holes
The world Nos 1 and 2 marched up the leaderboard here last night and then proceeded to march all the way back down again. England still have a chance of hailing their first USPGA champion in a century here today. But the prospect of glory is nowhere near as tantalising as it could be.
Luke Donald was the victim of the Atlanta Athletic Club stretch which the dearly departed Tiger Woods labelled "the toughest in golf". Westwood was a victim of his own putter. The former was within one of the lead, while the latter had made stealthy and ominous progress to get within two at one stage.
But then a dose of the doubles all but floored their challenges. First Donald took a six down the 18th after visiting the water; then, with the hopes transferred to his broad shoulders, Westwood made a six on the par-four 14th after visiting a cart path.
Will they come to rue these mistakes? Well, when analysing the scores and seeing the likes of Brendan Steele, Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley contesting, it was hard not to believe that here was a major for the taking. Many of the golfing intelligentsia will be quick to criticise this course and yell "poor layout, poor leaderboard". But, if they do fall short once again, Britain's two world leaders will have nobody to blame but themselves.
Westwood's setback was the most frustrating. It wasn't the 14th which annoyed him, but the putting. With Westwood it's always the putting. The 38-year-old, who is the undisputed champion of the "best never to win..." division, was, as ever, playing quite beautifully tee-to-green. And on the greens? His reaction said it all. "I'm completely fed up – I've had enough of it now," he said. "I've hit only one bad shot all day. I've made two birdies and they were both putts inside five feet. I missed four or five inside 10 feet. You can't do that in majors. The other players are all making them and that is the problem."
When asked what he could try differently, Westwood replied: "I could try another religion. I've tried everything else in the past year, so why not?" His latest experiment has been using Dr Bob Rotella for the last fortnight. The celebrated mind guru plainly has his work cut out.
As it turned out, Westwood showed great gumption to par the last four, after his mini-disaster on the 14th. He drove into a fairway bunker, from there watched his next shot roll 40 yards down a cart path, then he eventually located the green, but guess what – yes, he three-putted. When this man has a good putting week in a major he wins. Simple as. He just has to find a solution. All answers on a postcard to Worksop...
Donald's problems were of a different nature. The world No 1 was busily producing a performance fitting of the moniker until hitting the Athletic Club's frightening climax. With four holes remaining, Donald was five-under for the day, four-under overall and in thrilling contention. And when his tee shot on the par-three 15th came to rest within eight feet he was suddenly putting for a share of the lead.
Alas, the putt stayed above ground and a loose approach shot on the 16th led to a bogey when he short-sided himself in a greenside bunker. He scraped over the lake on the par-three 17th, secured his par and made his way to the terrifying 18th.
He pushed his drive into a fairway bunker, laid up in front of the water and plopped a nine-iron into the lake from 150 yards. Donald actually did well to get up and down from the drop-zone to take a double-bogey seven, but it marred what had been a great round. A 69 to stand at one-under was meagre consolation. "I'm angry," said Donald. "I had something really good going on there, and I threw it away."
Still, Donald does not believe his, or indeed Westwood's, major challenge is yet done. "I think it is possible to come back from six shots," said Donald. "On a course like this, players have showed that you can make runs, and it's easy to come back to the field as well. So I need something to happen for me, but I'm still quietly optimistic."
Steele and Dufner are six clear of the duo. What a winner either of these unheralded Americans would be on the 20th anniversary of John Daly’s USPGA fairytale. Dufner is the ultimate journeyman having been on the PGA Tour for 12 years without winning. Meanwhile, this is Steele’s very first major, having eked out a living on the Nationwide Tour as recently as last year. There have been two previous players who have won of their major debuts – Ben Curtis at the 2003 Open and Francis Ouitmet at the 1913 US Open.
Steele was previously best known for accusing Woods of “not giving it all he had” after playing with him in the final round of a Tour event in Torrey Pines at the start of the year. He put that controversy behind him – apparently Woods was “very understandable” when he received the letter of apology – when he won in Texas two months later.
And now, following his immensely impressive 66, he has the opportunity to stamp his reputation forever. He and Dufner are one clear of Bradley, another American making his major debut, with Scott Verplank on five-under, Steve Stricker on four-under, a group including Denmark’s Anders Hansen on three-under and an eye-catching quartet of Adam Scott, Robert Karlsson, Charl Schwartzel and David Toms on two-under. Then follows the one-under crowd featuring Donald and Westwood. Fantasies do come true. And one day Westwood will hole every putt he sees.
USPGA leaderboard: Early third-round scores
Brendan Steele (US) 69 68 66
Scott Verplank (US) 67 69 69
Steve Stricker (US) 63 74 69
Anders Hansen (Den) 68 69 70
D A Points (US) 69 67 71
Robert Karlsson (Swe) 70 71 67, Charl Schwartzel (SA) 71 71 66, David Toms (US) 72 71 65, Adam Scott (Aus) 69 69 70, John Senden (US) 68 68 72
Brendon De Jonge (US) 68 72 69, Spencer Levin 71 70 68, Nick Watney 70 71 68, Ben Crane 71 72 66, Luke Donald (Eng) 70 71 68, Lee Westwood (Eng) 71 68 70
Phil Mickelson (US) 71 70 69, Francesco Molinari (It) 72 71 67, Sergio Garcia (Sp) 72 69 69, Hunter Mahan (US) 72 72 66, Bill Haas 68 73 69, Alexander Noren (Swe) 70 72 68, Ryan Palmer (US) 71 70 69, Scott Piercy (US) 71 68 71, Matt Kuchar 71 71 68, Brandt Jobe (US) 68 69 73
Kevin Na (US) 72 69 70, Brian Davis (Eng) 69 73 69, Trevor Immelman (SA) 69 71 71, Bill Lunde (US) 71 71 69, Gary Woodland 70 70 71, Simon Dyson (Eng) 68 72 71, Mark Wilson (US) 69 71 71
Jerry Kelly (US) 65 73 74, K J Choi (S Kor) 70 73 69, Ian Poulter (Eng) 74 68 70, Bubba Watson (US) 74 68 70, Johnson Wagner (US) 71 69 72, Jhonattan Vegas (Ven) 70 68 74
Bryce Molder (US) 74 69 70, Chris Kirk (US) 72 72 69, Robert Allenby (Aus) 72 70 71, Yuta Ikeda (Japan) 73 68 72, Matteo Manassero (It) 68 74 71, Harrison Frazar (US) 72 69 72, Charles Howell III (US) 72 68 73
Robert Garrigus (US) 70 70 74, John Rollins (US) 72 72 70, Mike Small (US) 73 71 70, Miguel Angel Jimenez (Sp) 69 73 72 Kyung-tae Kim (S Kor) 73 71 70, Johan Edfors (Swe) 71 70 73
Ricky Barnes (US) 69 75 71, Rory Sabbatini (SA) 73 69 73, Kevin Streelman (US) 73 71 71, Davis Love III (US) 68 71 76
Seung-yul Noh (Kor) 71 70 75, Ross Fisher (Eng) 71 69 76, Zach Johnson (US) 71 72 73, Andres Romero (Arg) 72 70 74
Rory McIlroy (NIrl) 70 73 74, Padraig Harrington (Irl) 73 69 75
Peter Hanson (Swe) 71 71 76, Michael Bradley (US) 70 74 74, Rickie Fowler (US) 74 69 75, Y E Yang (S Kor) 71 73 74
Pablo Larrazabal (Sp) 70 73 76
Ryan Moore (US) 75 69 76 Edoardo Molinari (It) 75 69 76
Sean O'Hair (US) 71 73 77, Shaun Micheel (US) 66 78 77
Paul Casey (Eng) 72 72 78
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