When Jose Maria Olazabal, this year's European Ryder Cup captain, was asked to play pundit and name the players who he felt could win The Open Championship at Royal Lytham, he stood by three of the men who are likely to be members of his team to take on the Americans at Medinah in September.
Noting that the Lancashire links is littered with some 270 bunkers, many of which require their victims to play out sideways, he also chose to talk about players who control a golf ball rather than bomb it.
Lee Westwood, the English world No 3, was the first name out of the hat because Olazabal felt he had as good a control of the golf ball with his long game as any of the current world top players. And he added in his words "the usual suspects, Luke Donald and Francesco Molinari".
At the end of last week Westwood was to be found working with his coach, Pete Cowen, at Lytham, but Olazabal reckoned his putting might still hold him back from improving on his 2012 major performances to date, of third at the Masters and 10th at the US Open. He could also have mentioned that the Englishmen looked some way from his best when he finished tied for 40th place at the French Open a week ago.
The choice of Donald was interesting, since the world No 1 missed the cut at the US Open. Last night, after shooting a third-round 68 in the Scottish Open, Donald was talking up his chances, despite having played three poor iron shots which cost him bogeys while everyone else was making birdies by the sackful.
Donald was particularly content with two aspects of the game he will take with him from Inverness to Lytham tomorrow – his driving and a new mental approach.
"I felt very comfortable on the tee." he said. "More comfortable than for a long time. My swing was out of kilter at the US Open but now it is getting very close to where I want it to be and I am really excited about it. All the hard work I have put in up here is starting to pay off."
In between visits to the range at Castle Stuart, Donald has also been working with the English mental coach Dave Alred on a new mindset to take into the biggest tournaments. "I feel more in control of how I want to feel, instead of letting my feelings take control of me," he said. "In the past going to majors I have been anxious and excited, but this time I will be going to Lytham feeling relaxed and calm."
In naming Molinari as one of his favoured Open candidates, Olazabal as gone for a form horse. In the final round of the French Open the Italian shot a 64 to tie for second place, and in three days in Scotland he has scored 62, 70 and 67 to move to 17 under par and a one-shot lead over the Dane Anders Hansen to take into today's last round.
Already the winner of the Spanish Open, if Molinari adds another title today he will emulate his brother, Edoardo, who won the Scottish Open last year. They would be the second brothers in European Tour history to win the same event.
But for Olazabal's faith in Molinari to shine through in Lytham, the Italian will have to be overcome tiredness after contending for tournaments over two weekends. And the worry has not escaped him.
Molinari said last night: "Padraig Harrington said he didn't not want to win here in Scotland because winning takes so much out of you. But I just want to win this week and next week – there's plenty of time to worry about that."
Clearly in the mood to play well at Lytham, he added: "I am playing well, putting well and everything in my game is pretty much where I want it to be."
Warren makes late charge
Scotland's Marc Warren has had an up and down career, from partnering Colin Montgomerie to win the World Cup in 2007 to failing, in 2010, to make enough money to keep his European Tour playing card.
Today, however, at Castle Stuart, the 31-year-old from Rutherglen will be hunting one of the best consolation prizes. Warren will have to close a two-shot gap between himself and the leader, Francesco Molinari, in the final round of the Scottish Open. But after an eight under par 64 yesterday he is in the frame to clinch an 11th-hour place to play his first Open Championship.
That ticket to play at Royal Lytham will go to the highest non-Open-exempt player in the top five. From the pack at the start of the third round, Warren climbed into a share of second with his partner, the Dane Soren Kjeldsen, who also shot a 64. Their better-ball score for 18 third-round holes was a massive 15 under par. Kjeldsen is also chasing the Open spot.
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