5 Things: Americans nipping on Clarke's tail
The Open Championship 2011 (Rd. 3)
Check out photos from the third round of The Open Championship at Royal St. George's
SANDWICH, England – Five things you need to know entering the final round of the Open Championship:
1. Tight leaderboard: Darren Clarke shot 69 to take a one-shot lead over Dustin Johnson entering the final round at Royal St. George’s. Clarke’s at 5-under 205 after three rounds. His lead could be even larger. He hit 16 greens Sunday, but failed to convert several short birdie opportunities.
"If somebody had given me 69 before I was going out to play, I would have bitten their hand off for it," he said.
Clarke, of Northern Ireland, will be the fan favorite in the final pairing, which tees off at 2:10 p.m. local time. The 42-year-old gained a legion of supporters after his emotional performance at the 2006 Ryder Cup, where he went 3-0 to lead Europe to victory just weeks after the death of his wife, Heather. Clarke, 42, won his 13th European Tour title at this year’s Iberdrola Open in Spain, his first victory in three years and only third since 2003. The five-time Ryder Cup player finished in the top 10 in PGA European Tour earnings for nine consecutive seasons from 1993 to 2004.
Johnson will be in the final group at a major for the third time in the past two seasons. He led last year’s U.S. Open and accompanied Nick Watney at the PGA Championship. Johnson shot 82 at the U.S. Open. He missed the PGA playoff after inadvertently grounding his club in a fairway bunker.
2. American breakthrough? So much, probably too much, has been made about the Americans’ drought in majors. Non-Americans have won five consecutive majors, dating back to Phil Mickelson’s victory at the 2010 Masters. Three Americans are in the top six, and six Americans are among the 12 players at par or better. Johnson (4-under 206), Rickie Fowler (208) and Lucas Glover (209) are the leading Americans.
Fowler and Johnson both shot 68, Saturday’s low round. Fowler can thank his putter. He holed birdie putts of 15, 12 and 20 feet on Nos. 13, 15 and 16, as well as a 20-foot par save on the 12th.
3. Making amends: Clarke wouldn’t be the only one with a chance for an emotional victory. Thomas Bjorn, who blew a chance to win at Royal St. George’s in 2003, is three shots off the lead. Bjorn would have won the 2003 Open Championship had he not taken a double bogey on the par-3 16th in the final round. Taking three shots to escape a greenside bunker doomed his chances.
4. Wreaking havoc: As if the bottom of the leaderboard didn’t have it hard enough, those players trying to make a Saturday charge had to deal with the worst of the weather. Saturday’s early starters faced conditions that most described as some of the hardest they’d ever faced. The weather started to clear in the early afternoon, just as the final game, which teed off at 3:05 p.m., settled into its round. The change in weather helped spread out the leaderboard. At the start of the day, every player that made the cut was 7 shots or fewer from the lead. Now, only 21 players are that close. Only six players are four shots or fewer from Clarke’s lead.
Here’s a breakdown of the disparity in scoring between the two halves of the draw:
76.4: Scoring average for the first half of Saturday’s draw.
73.1: Scoring average for the second half of Saturday’s draw, 3.3 shots lower than the first half.
72: Low score in the first half, shot by Tom Watson and Trevor Immelman.
68: Low score in the second half, shot by Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson. Darren Clarke shot 69.
16: Number of players that shot 72 or better in the second half.
5. No charge from the champions: The recent major champions that started Saturday in contention didn’t put themselves in position to add to their trophy cases. Martin Kaymer, who started Saturday one off the lead, shot 73 to fall five shots off the pace. Charl Schwartzel, who started the day two back, shot 75. Rory McIlroy, who started the day at even par and four shots back, shot 74. Lucas Glover, two years removed from winning the U.S. Open, has an outside chance come Sunday. He started the Saturday in a tie for the lead; his 73 leaves him four shots back.