McDowell looks ready for final push to stop Scott
Ulsterman trails by four but has Claret Jug in his sights
Pretty soon now we are going to have to start giving Graeme McDowell his due. That moment might well come today on the last green at Lytham. Do not discount it, despite the four-shot deficit to Adam Scott.
Typically cast as Rory McIlroy's golfing uncle, a chipper aide de camp to the genius from Holywood, McDowell is too readily overlooked in the golfing beauty parade. Yet it is he, the counter-punching hero of European golf, who is living the dream at this Open Championship, eyeball to eyeball with fate in the final pairing.
McDowell negotiates obstacles with a pragmatic finesse, and after a typically gritty 67 is once more the pre-eminent Brit, bursting from the Lytham peloton on seven under par to set up a thrilling finale with Scott. He must hope the wind, forecast to gust at 30mph, gets up and that Scott, who hit a steady 68 to extend his aggregate to 11 under par, is as generous as Dustin Johnson was at Pebble Beach two years ago, binning a three-shot advantage early in the final round to hand the initiative and ultimately the US Open to the Ulsterman.
McDowell showed his talent for the visceral scrap, holing the winning putt at the Ryder Cup later that year and last month at the US Open in San Francisco, sank a 12-footer at the penultimate hole to close within a shot of Webb Simpson and had a putt at the last to force a play-off.
The disappointment weighed heavy as he watched Simpson cradling the pot that was once his. The memory of it won't hinder today.
"Since I was a young boy I dreamed of coming down that last fairway on a Sunday afternoon, the last group in the Open Championship. And I can draw on my experiences at the Olympic Club a few weeks ago. So this is special for me, in the final group in back-to-back majors. I talked about it early in the week. I can't expect to win, but what I can expect to do is compete if I do the right things. To give myself a chance to be within three or four of the lead going into a Sunday afternoon and playing with the leader, that's really all I can ask. I'm right where I want to be," he said.
Brandt Snedeker started the day with a one-shot lead but was already betraying a hint of nerves on the range, warming up beside Woods. The power and influence of Woods could be seen immediately with Snedeker engineering his routines in such a way that would allow him a furtive glance in the direction of the era's greatest golfer. Woods looked at nothing except his ball, luxuriating almost in the degree to which he makes others twitch.
In the next bay along was Thorbjorn Olesen, watched by his father, who told how he brought his ten-year-old son to his first Open at St Andrews to watch his hero, Woods. The excitement of all was obvious, and not without charm. Dad revealed that the two had yet to make each other's acquaintance, which would load that first tee handshake with even greater significance for his son. Olesen is in his second year on tour and won for the first time in Sicily this year. The upward curve of the graph is clear, but this was a different order of challenge.
As the leaders went to the first the flags around Lytham were beginning to dance and the greens were showing signs of quickening. Too few of those who went out early were able to make a score. Bubba Watson flickered briefly taking him to four under from par before dropping back to two under. Zach Johnson also made up four shots and held on to reach to five under. Woods is not a brilliant stalker. His victories have come from the front. His tee shot at the first was at the pin but long, and ran through the back of the green, coming to rest on the apron. His pitch was short and the putt missed. A deficit that began at four had slipped to five. Two holes later it was six as Woods bogeyed a second time. Woods in retreat was not what this crowd had come to see.
The galleries around the first green and 2nd tee were rammed in. As Woods made his way up the second fairway the migration began, leaving a far better view of the leaders coming up the first. A view is one thing, a legend another. Woods rewarded the faithful with a 60-footer, sent snaking across the sixth green into the centre of the cup for his first birdie of the day. A second at the next took him back to six under par, where he finished in what ultimately proved a bumpy ride. Snedeker, who had not made a bogey in 40 holes, obliged at the fifth when he missed a tiddler after his approach fell short of the green. He had still to put his ball in any of the 206 bunkers. Over two days and five holes that meant he had avoided more than 450 traps. He put that to bed at the sixth and it hurt him again, coming out sideways to post a second successive bogey.
Snedeker rallied briefly at the seventh before scarring his card with successive bogeys to the turn. When he hooked his tee shot at the 11th a sense of foreboding followed him into the long grass. On slippery slopes like his few regain their feet. Scott drew strength from his foe's decline. Birdies at seven and eight took him four clear on 11 under par. A 20-foot par save on 11 underscored his effort, which he held to the close.
Snedeker recovered something from the day with a birdie at the last for a 73 and will partner Woods today. Olesen bounced his approach off the clubhouse wall to close with a bogey and a commendable 71.
Former Open champion Ernie Els feels "something special" could happen in tomorrow's final round. "For some reason I've got some belief this week," said the 1994 and 1997 US Open champion who has had an indifferent few years by his standards.
GB and Irl unless stated, par 70
Adam Scott (Aus) 64 67 68
Graeme McDowell 67 69 67
Brandt Snedeker (US) 66 64 73
Tiger Woods (US) 67 67 70
Zach Johnson (US) 65 74 66
Ernie Els (SA) 67 70 68
Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) 69 66 71
Bill Haas (US) 71 68 68
Thomas Aiken (SA) 68 68 71
Mark Calcavecchia (US) 71 68 69
Louis Oosthuizen (SA) 72 68 68
Bubba Watson (US) 67 73 68
Matt Kuchar (US) 69 67 72
Dustin Johnson (US) 73 68 68
Kyle Stanley (US) 70 69 70
Luke Donald 70 68 71
Jason Dufner (US) 70 66 73
Nick Watney (US) 71 70 69
Vijay Singh (Fij) 70 72 68
Greg Chalmers (Aus) 71 68 71
Simon Khan 70 69 71
Anirban Lahiri (Ind) 68 72 70
James Morrison 68 70 72
Steven Alker (NZ) 69 69 72
Hunter Mahan (US) 70 71 70
Keegan Bradley (US) 71 72 68
Justin Hicks (US) 68 74 69
Alexander Noren (Swe) 71 71 69
Thomas Bjorn (Den) 70 69 72
Matthew Baldwin 69 73 69
Peter Hanson (Swe) 67 72 72
Steve Stricker (US) 67 71 73
Francesco Molinari (It) 69 72 71
Garth Mulroy (SA) 71 69 72
Dale Whitnell 71 69 72
Joost Luiten (Hol) 73 70 69
Jamie Donaldson 68 72 72
Harris English (US) 71 71 70
Padraig Harrington 70 72 70
Simon Dyson 72 67 73
Carl Petterson (Swe) 71 68 73
Paul Lawrie 65 71 76
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