Fisher's driving reign leaves McDowell clinging on in second

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A malevolent wind galloped across Kent yesterday but any suspicions it would carry away the lead of the young Englishman at the head of this European Open scoreboard were proven wickedly unfounded. In fact, it was Ross Fisher doing all the blowing away. Just as he has done all week. Graeme McDowell manfully attempted to stick his ground – matching Fisher's eagle on the 15th – but eventually succumbed and ended up three behind his inspired playing partner. There is another three back to David Frost in third and then another two to the best of the rest. It is Fisher's to lose and McDowell's to steal. The others should be competing merely for the incidentals.

On the first three days' evidence, Fisher would be a worthy winner as well as being a worthy candidate to make Nick Faldo's Ryder Cup team. The 27-year-old's length off the tee is, to use a member of the crowd's description, "sick". On Thursday Fisher drove it 413 yards on the ninth. This time he added at least another 10 yards. Even allowing for the gusts at his back that is some hit.

Yet if anything summed up his domination it was the 18th where he nervelessly conjured the only birdie of the day. There had not even been that many pars when Fisher arrived. He took on the water with a tremendous whack off the tee, then spun in a sumptuous nine iron. The resulting eight-footer was never missing. All in all, the 69 for a 16-under total is as impressive as it sounds.

If anyone is to leap from the pack it will surely be Sergio Garcia. The young Spaniard did not enjoy the best fortune yesterday with a 74 that saw his old habit of yanked short putts make an unwelcome return. That was probably more down to the yell from a crowd at the top of his backswing on the 13th tee, as any flaw in his new technique.

It caused him to slice wildly and double-bogey and the experience clearly unnerved Garcia. When it comes to loud-mouthed supporters, Colin Montgomerie would no doubt sympathise with his Ryder Cup team-mate, although whether he has as much reason to rage is clearly nobody's business. It has been vintage Montgomerie all week as he has created over the slightest noise – clicks from cameras, coughs from fans, farts from butterflies.

On Friday, he upset Ian Poulter, who was distracted by one of the Scot's outbursts and yesterday he was Mr Angry again. He lost his hat on the first (it blew off and was stuffed straight back in his bag) and eventually his head followed. With three holes remaining he was nine-under, in third place and continuing his resurgent form from his runner-up placing in France last week.

He then finished, bogey, bogey, bogey, including a visit to the water at the last, to drop down to joint 10th. He stomped to the recorder's hut – stopping to calmly lift the lid off a wheelie bin and throw his ball inside – and soon emerged to the usual mass of microphones. And so declared Montgomerie: "I'm not the story today. I'm not the story today. I'm not the story today. I think you'll find I'm not the story today."

Well, actually he was. If not quite the main news-line then certainly an important item. Montgomerie needs a top-three placing here to haul his way into the automatic qualifying positions on the Ryder Cup standings. The old boy's demeanour confirms that he will not give up without a fight – or, indeed, a strop – and a good final round could see the 45-year-old force his way to the brink of Kentucky.

As well as the destination of the £400,000 first prize and all those Ryder Cup points there is an intriguing subplot concerning the destination of the one spot on offer here for next week's Open Championship. The leading non-exempt player will earn a ticket to Royal Birkdale as long as he comes in the top five.

Those in contention today include Rory McIlroy, the freckle-faced teenager who became the darling of the galleries at last year's Open. The 19-year-old from Ulster was a starry-eyed amateur back then, but yesterday he bore the steely eyes of the professional he has become as he blotted out the spectacular collapse of his playing partner – yep, Monty – to hold his score at six-under. McIlroy still needs to overhaul Frost – the South African at the other end of the wrinkly scale at 48 – but there is a burgeoning suspicion here that the Carnoustie Kid could just be the boy for Birkdale.