James Lawton: McIlroy shot down by young gun Fowler

Irishman rues rough luck of the draw while new Californian kid on the block accentuates the positives to outscore him by six strokes

It was bad enough for Rory McIlroy that the brilliantly surviving talent and nerve of the 61-year-old Tom Watson served as a classic model of how you brace yourself against the wind and the rain and conjure a little golf magic.

This is a fate always ready to ambush the hierarchy of the game from which the man from Kansas City plundered eight major titles and five Opens at the height of his power to cut through the most fiendish of weather.

But if Watson for a second day running captured the imagination of the galleries, and fashioned a 72 that in all the circumstances was quite stunning, the cruellest of blows to the brilliant conqueror of the US Open last month was that he lost, utterly, a hand-to-hand duel with someone of his own age who was not only in search of his first professional victory but also playing in the most alien of conditions.

Rickie Fowler, who threatens to make an all-orange splash when he appears among the leaders today, learned his golf on the manicured, sun-bathed lawns of Southern California and came into yesterday's tempest in the kind of designer rainwear you see on those very occasional rainy days along Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills.

There may have been a some incipient sniggers when Fowler appeared on the first tee but they died in thousands of throats when he proceeded to deliver a lesson guaranteed to subdue the new hero of world golf. McIlroy fought hard enough to keep in touch with the pace that at the time was being set by his veteran fellow Ulsterman Darren Clarke, but when he lurched out of bounds on the 14th hole at the cost of double bogey he was ready to concede that the glory he found at the Congressional Country Club last month was certain to be eclipsed for at least another 24 hours.

McIlroy and Fowler both startedat level par but it was the American who truly came to terms with the desperate conditions. He finished on the leaderboard at two under, with McIlroy six shots away and conceding that he was also operating under the weight of a superior touch.

The reigning US champion, who many believe is the natural heir to Tiger Woods, said: "Ricky is such a natural player. He's got a lot of feel so he controls the flight of the ball very well. He's also got a great short game. He gets up and down when he needs to and holes good putts at the right times. A 68 in these conditions was very impressive."

For McIlroy there may be a moment in the next few days when he ponders one of the truths delivered by Watson's fierce rival Jack Nicklaus. This could happen if the 22-year-old reviews his own analysis of three days in which he never began to capture the kind of superb psychological momentum he produced in the US Open. He will see that on his lips the key to everything was the draw, that if you got the worst of it – as McIlroy plainly did – you might as well pack your kitbag and head for the hills.

The first thing McIlroy said after walking off the 18th green yesterday was: "It seems in this tournament more so than anything else you need to get a good draw, and it just hasn't really worked out for me this week.

"It was really tough out there this morning and I felt that for the first 13 holes, to get through those in two over par was a pretty decent effort. And then to give two shots away on the 14th was very disappointing. I tried to make a couple of birdies coming down the last four holes but wasn't able to do it, and 74 was the best I could manage."

Fowler went six shots better, which may just have had something to do with his apparently greater willingness to accept the Nicklaus point, which was: "The first thing you have to understand is that golf isn't fair. Then you just make the best of what you have in front of you."

Nicklaus's philosophy might have been carried by Fowler as a personal catechism through all of yesterday's squalls. At the end of the most significant day of his career, he said: "Yeah, I agree you have to kind of embrace where you're at and what is in front of you, and for the most part my caddie, Joe [Scovron], and I were trying to keep moving forward and stay positive.

"We knew it was going to play hard and we knew it was going to be tough making any birdies out there today. But when you go at it with the right attitude, 68 is possible."

Indeed, you can inherit the world that way. Rory McIlroy should have remembered. He did, after all, do it just a few weeks ago.

Brit watch: How the home boys held up

Paul Lawrie (224, +14)

Conditions were so bad while Lawrie was winning the 1999 Open at Carnoustie that headlines renamed the course "Carnasty". But 12 years on the Scot has clearly lost the ability to play in bad weather. He shot an 11-over 81.

Gary Boyd (217, +7)

Had already achieved a milestone on his major debut by making the cut. Yesterday he shot a 76 and having already marked his European rookie season with a second at the Italian Open, Boyd, from Banbury could yet make the top 30 in Kent.

Paul Casey (221, +11)

Part of Europe's 30+ lost generation. Casey took two weeks off after missing the cut at the BMW International, saying that playing was hurting him too much. Complaining of arthritis in his toes, he probably felt even worse yesterday after an eight-over 78.

Richard McEvoy (216, +6)

The Essex boy was another major debutant. Also shot a 75 and dismissed the bad weather. "I am loving every minute of my first major," he said. "As an amateur I played in worse weather than this."

Kenneth Ferrie (218, +8)

Needed his Geordie sense of humour after a 76. "After four or five holes, I lost the will to stay dry. Throw in 40-50mph winds and you might as well throw the yardage book away."

Stephen Gallacher (218, +8)

The nephew of former Ryder Cup captain Bernard has been brought up playing on windy links courses. But after his 77, even he admitted Royal St George's had tested him to the limit. "That was probably the toughest conditions I've played in."

Justin Rose (221, +11)

It is now 13 years since Rose was a teenage amateur hero finishing tied for fourth in the 1998 Open at Royal Birkdale and he has not had a top 10 Open finish since. That poor record which includes three missed cuts is set to continue after he could only produce a third round of 79.

Graham Otway

Today's tee times

8.0 Hwang (S Kor); 8.10 Lawrie, Millar (Aus); 8.20 Levin (US), Luiten (Hol); 8.30 Rose, Haas (US); 8.40 Havret (Fr), Casey; 8.50 Barnes (US), Andersson Hed (Swe); 9.0 Khan, Bourdy (Fr); 9.10 Frazar (US), Molinari (It); 9.25 De Vries (Hol), Moore (US); 9.35 Sabbatini (SA), Gallacher; 9.45 Cink (US), Ferrie; 9.55 Furyk (US), Stenson (Swe); 10.05 Choi (S Kor), Overton (US); 10.15 Stanley (US), Day (Aus); 10.25 Boyd, Wilson (US); 10.40 Uihlein (US), Woodland (US); 10.50 Allenby (Aus), Noh (S Kor); 11.0 McEvoy, Oosthuizen (SA); 11.10 Lewis, Ikeda (Japan); 11.20 Watson (US), Van Pelt (US); 11.30 Larrazabal (Sp), Rock; 11.40 McIlroy, Garcia (Sp); 11.55 Green (Aus), Howell III (US); 12.05 Immelman (SA), Watson (US); 12.15 Schwartzel (SA), Yang (S Kor); 12.25 Jacobson (Swe), Scott (Aus); 12.35 Stricker (US), Simpson (US); 12.45 Dyson, Jacquelin (Fr); 12.55 Campbell (US), Lehman (US); 1.10 Palmer (US), Johnson (US); 1.20 Kaymer (Ger), Love III (US); 1.30 Coetzee (SA), Hansen (Den); 1.40 Mickelson (US), Kim (US); 1.50 Glover (US), Jimenez (Sp); 2.0 Bjorn (Den), Fowler (US); 2.10 Johnson (US), Clarke.

(GB & Ire unless stated)

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