A superb fightback by Lee Westwood in desperate conditions yesterday raised his hopes of healing his Ryder Cup heartache at the Dunhill Links Championship. The world No 12, without a win this season despite consistently featuring on leaderboards around the globe, went to the turn in 41 as he completed his tour of the three courses the event is being played over.
Westwood dropped six shots in his first six holes before coming back in 35 to stand four shots off the lead on two under and rescue his hopes of ending the year as European No 1. Germany's Martin Kaymer and Swede Jarmo Sandelin share top spot on six under par, with Sweden's Magnus Carlsson a shot behind. Unfortunately for the Englishman, his chief foe in the race for the Order of Merit – triple major champion and current money leader Padraig Harrington – lies in a group on four under after a battling 74 on the same course Westwood tackled.
Harrington currently heads the Order of Merit by £180,000 from Westwood, who would have been £100,000 closer had he beaten Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño in a play-off for the Quinn Insurance British Masters at The Belfry last Sunday.
Sweden's Robert Karlsson is third in the standings, another £100,000 behind Westwood, but with a first prize on offer here of £432,000, the money title remains wide open. Karlsson is sandwiched between Harrington and Westwood on three under after a 76. Westwood, who last topped the Order of Merit in 2000, said: "It was tough, the wind was pumping out there. I was six over after six and struggling. The course was playing tough and you didn't have to do a lot wrong really.
"I dug in though and was three under for the next six holes. Missing from six or seven feet for birdie on eight was the turning point as it was the first green I hit in regulation.
"It was a good birdie at nine and I missed a short one on 10 and had a good chance at 11, but made birdies at the 12th and 14th, gimme birdies today with the wind direction. I three-putted 16, which was a shame, but I parred the last two holes, which you can never complain about here. Two under might be in with a chance."
The Irishman's day followed a similar pattern to the Englishman's. Harrington played the front nine in 40 but came home in a superb 34.
"Remembering winning the Open here helped me immensely," said Harrington. "But being able to recover situations is one of my better traits. I've worked very hard on it with my caddie. After the bad start he reminded me [at the turn] there were still 27 holes to go and that helped to settle the ship." Harrington went on to produce a joyful punch of the air after saving par with a 10-footer at the last.
"I'm only two shots behind, I know I can win if I play well tomorrow and it's given me a great opportunity for the Order of Merit," he added, after following up his last-hole birdie on Friday and his late run of five birdies in six holes the day before. Those players making the cut last night after three days of competition, which also took in the Old Course at St Andrews and Kingbarns, return to the "Auld Grey Toon" today to fight for the spoils.