For Tom Lewis, the beguiling dream of nudging Bobby Jones from the record books has now slipped away. A 76 yesterday punctured any dwindling fantasies he might have entertained of claiming the Claret Jug at his first attempt, although he remains in pole position to claim the prestigious Silver Medal for the leading amateur. And for all his disappointment with a round that did not yield a birdie until the 17th, he took encouragement simply from "another cut made as an amateur in a professional game".
Lewis intends to turn pro after the Walker Cup later this year, so he will never dislodge Jones as the last amateur to win the Open. That was in 1930, the year that Jones won the Grand Slam, which remains one of the game's mightiest accomplishments. But in opening here with a remarkable 65, Lewis made an impact on the Open that few in the non-paid ranks have achieved, certainly not since Justin Rose's dramatic fourth-place finish in 1998.
It made the 20-year-old the first amateur to top an Open leaderboard after 18 holes, albeit in the companyof a resurgent Thomas Bjorn, since the illustrious Michael Bonallack in 1968. So he was entitled on Thursday evening to picture himself staying in the hunt until late this afternoon, an enticing prospect that was wounded but not buried by a second-round 74. Lewis woke up yesterday morning still one of only 18 men under par, and just three off the lead.
Five bogeys on the front nine yesterday, including three in succession from the third, put paid to the youngster's more grandiose ambitions, yet in defence of his outward score of 40, it was posted in conditions that for a few miserable hours made the 140th Open Championship more challenging than all but a handful of the previous 139.
By the time Lewis embarked on his second nine, the hammering rain had eased, and almost imperceptibly a leaden grey sky became a benign blue. His playing partner Phil Mickelson, whose 71 leaves him in contention for a fifth major title, acknowledged the luck of the later starters. "We went from fighting for pars on every hole to thinking birdies," he said.
For Lewis, the thrill of playing the first 36 holes with Tom Watson, old enough to be his grandfather and the man after whom he was named, was compounded by the company of Mickelson, merely old enough to be his father. Together, the two Americans have 12 major titles' worth of experience and expertise, yet there were times, even yesterday, when Lewis was the man showing the guile. That he comes from Welwyn Garden City, the home town of Sir Nick Faldo, is almost enough to make you believe that a talent for golf is dished out on a postcode basis.
Mickelson, meanwhile, comes from San Diego, where afternoons in mid-July tend not to require golfers to strike balls wearing gloves on both hands, as initially he did even while putting. The Californian's driving has been occasionally errant here, as it so often is when he is not quite on top of his game, but more unusually he has looked vulnerable on the greens. He took 62 putts over the first two rounds, which is unutterably poor for him, yet still scored well enough to stay in touch with the leaders.
For such a fine player, who claims to love links golf, the left-hander has a distinctly unimpressive record in the Open. In 17 attempts he has finished in the top 10 only once, at Royal Troon in 2004, and in the top 20 just three times. Moreover, he has made next to no impression in the majors since winning last year's Masters. But he is even-par here, and the possibility of him winning today should certainly not be discounted. "I've got to shoot something under par, I'm just not sure how low, [but] it's fun for me to come over here and have a chance on Sunday," he said.
As for Lewis's Silver Medal chances, his only competition is provided by the American Peter Uihlein, who embarks on his final round seven over par, two worse than Lewis. Both young men have fathers in the golf trade, incidentally. Bryan Lewis is the teaching pro at Gosling Park driving range in Welwyn; Wally Uihlein is the chairman and CEO of the Acushnet company, who own Titleist and Footjoy.
It doesn't seem like jingoism to root for Lewis. Not because Peter Uihlein was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and to win the Silver Medal would seem like an excess of silver, but because the Englishman deserves to take home more than memoriesfrom Sandwich. All the same, what memories they will be.