After the People’s Open at Royal Portrush last time, the Purist’s Open has developed beside the North Sea, with three classic shotmakers in Louis Oosthuizen, Collin Morikawa and Jordan Spieth leading pursuit of the Claret Jug.
All three had to dig deep in the face of moments of frailty that will perhaps give hope to the chasing pack, who include US Open champion Jon Rahm. Spieth, in particular, might well have had a difficult evening after finishing bogey, bogey.
But the manner of their work for much of a thrilling third round at Sandwich suggests one of them will be acclaimed as the Champion Golfer of the Year today.
Louis Oosthuizen remains as the man to catch at the end of the third round of The Open
Jordan Spieth made a strong start but has dropped away slightly after his bogey-bogey finish
Oosthuizen, luckless runner-up at each of the last two majors, is clinging to a one-stroke lead over Morikawa following a 69, with Spieth three shots behind.
The outcome remains far from certain, however, with the only guarantee as this 149th edition draws to its sun-blessed climax this afternoon being that it will be a feast for anyone who loves golf.
Two more gifted ball strikers, Canadian Corey Conners and American Scottie Scheffler, are four behind, then comes Spaniard Rahm with five shots to make up following a 68.
The only disappointment of this memorable week has been the absence of a British presence on the leaderboard going into the final day, with the English drought stretching back to 1992 all but certain to go on.
But it’s a small quibble given the admirable manner in which the leading three, in particular, have gone about their work.
Rory Mcllroy made a strong start in day three before coming apart in the back nine
How do you follow up becoming the first man in history to play the first 36 holes of an Open in fewer than 130 strokes?
As if sleeping on that feat wasn’t difficult enough, Oosthuizen had to wait around until the ludicrous hour of 3.55pm for the final tee-time of the third round.
Some would have been a bag of nerves and most would have struggled for an encore, but King Louis started on the regal path we’ve seen since he pushed Phil Mickelson all the way at the US PGA Championship in May.
A booming drive on the opening hole was followed by an iron approach to ten feet, something the 38-year-old South African replicated at the second, though neither opportunity was taken. Then something odd happened.
Two iron shots in a row from the fifth were not struck flush. Louis practised his shoulder turn, offended by the temerity of something going awry with the best-looking swing in golf.
It was a thing of beauty once more by the seventh, where he followed six straight pars with his first birdie of the two-putt variety. Another at the ninth took him out in 33.
The back nine saw a different golfer, however, to the one we’ve been admiring these past two months. He lost his rhythm completely for four holes and only his putting stroke and grim determination saved him.
Cameron Smith climbed up the leaderboard with two early birdies in his round
He will be enormously relieved to have retained the lead, even if his wobble cost him a chance to break Shane Lowry’s 54-hole record of 197 shots.
By his side, Morikawa went the other way. He was a bag of nerves at the start, dropping two early shots. It could have been more, too. His game was the exact opposite of its normal form, with him missing iron shots and holing crucial short putts. It all changed, however, after his first birdie at the seventh.
By the end he was knocking the flags out with uncanny and astonishing accuracy, and missing the putts. He finished with a 68.
Spieth looked back where he belongs after seven holes. Each day brings more evidence of the man who won the last Open to be held in England in 2017 to make it three majors at the age of just 23.
He started out three shots behind Oosthuizen but quickly made inroads, his first birdie following a fine iron approach to the second and then did what he does, holing from 25 feet for what would have been an unlikely birdie for anyone else at the fourth.
The Texan picked up another shot at the seventh but thereafter it was hard work, unravelling a little with those two bogeys to finish for a 69, including a missed tiddler at the 18th that sent him straight to the practice green.
Lowry, who claimed the People’s Open at Portrush in 2019, might have waited two years to defend his title but the Irishman is revelling in the moment. He has embraced the pressure of being defending champion rather than let it bury him.
McIlroy covered the front nine in 31 to move inside the top 20 before falling apart later on
Colin Morikawa, the world No 4, has taken Sandwich by storm on his debut at The Open
How the crowd loved his reaction after he followed birdies at the 16th and 17th by holing a 20-foot putt for par at the 18th. With a broad smile, he threw his arms into the air as if he’d won the Open again.
‘I’m proud of the way I kept battling away, and having that finish has given me confidence going into the final round,’ said the 33-year-old, who shot 69 to be seven back.
Given the impressive way they finished their second rounds, a strong challenge was expected from World No1 Dustin Johnson and four-time major champion Brooks Koepka, but neither materialised. In the end, both went quietly. Koepka had concluded with three straight birdies on Friday but began with three bogeys in the first five holes and never really recovered.
He finished with a 72 to end any hope of winning the season’s final major and one of the four trophies he craves the most this season.
Johnson, who finished second to Darren Clarke the last time the Open was staged at Sandwich in 2011, couldn’t build on Friday’s 65. Like Koepka, he went in the opposite direction with three bogeys over the front nine.
His problems began at the fourth, where he skewed his approach so badly he struck a marshal on the backside. No rearguard action followed either, as he was unable to get down in two, and there were more sloppy bogeys at the seventh and eighth, settling for a poor 73.
With a couple of missed cuts and nondescript displays in the other two majors, it’s been a curiously mediocre collection from the man who lapped the field in world-beating fashion to win the Masters last November.
THIRD ROUND SCORES
-12 L Oosthuizen (SA) 64 65 69
-11 C Morikawa (US) 67 64 68
-9 J Spieth (US) 65 67 69
-8 C Conners (Can) 68 68 66, S Scheffler (US) 67 66 69
-7 M Hughes (Can) 66 69 68, J Rahm (Spa) 71 64 68, D Frittelli (SA) 66 67 70
-6 J Harding (SA) 67 67 70, C Smith (Aus) 69 67 68, M Siem (Ger) 67 67 70
-5 D Berger (US) 70 67 68, P Casey 68 67 70, S Lowry (Ire) 71 65 69, W Simpson (US) 66 72 67, K Streelman (US) 70 69 66, A Sullivan 67 67 71
-4 J Dahmen (US) 69 68 69, E Grillo (Arg) 70 64 72, D Johnson (US) 68 65 73, J Kokrak (US) 70 70 66, R MacIntyre 72 69 65, C Tringale (US) 69 66 71, D Willett 67 69 70
-3 M Fitzpatrick 71 69 67, R Fox (NZ) 68 68 71, L Griffin (US) 69 70 68, B Harman (US) 65 71 71, B Koepka (US) 69 66 72, A Rai 70 69 68, J Rose 67 70 70, M Wallace 70 68 69
-2 D Burmester (SA) 70 67 71, T Finau (US) 70 66 72, T Fleetwood 67 71 70, T Gooch (US) 69 72 67, V Hovland (Nor) 68 71 69, A Rozner (Fra) 70 71 67, B Snedeker (US) 68 68 72, D van Tonder (SA) 68 66 74
-1 R McIlroy 70 70 69, I Poulter 72 66 71, S Horsfield 70 70 69
PAR B-H An (Kor) 67 70 73, C Bezuidenhout (SA) 68 72 70, S Garcia (Spa) 68 69 73, M Homa (US) 70 69 71, M Schmid (Ger) * 74 65 71, J Thomas (US) 72 67 71, J Veerman (US) 70 68 72, L Westwood 71 67 72, J Senior 67 71 72
+ 1 A Ancer (Mex) 69 71 71, M Armitage 69 72 70, B Hebert (Fra) 66 74 71, J Thomson 71 67 73, B Wiesberger (Aut) 71 70 70
+ 2 H English (US) 75 65 72, B Horschel (US) 70 69 73, J Niemann (Chi) 69 70 73, C Reavie (US) 72 66 74, X Schauffele (US) 69 71 72, A Scott (Aus) 73 66 73
+3 R Bland 70 70 73, B DeChambeau (US) 71 70 72, P Harrington (Ire) 72 68 73, J Janewattananond (Tha) 70 69 74, C Kim (US) 70 69 74, R Kinoshita (Jpn) 72 69 72, J. C. Ritchie (SA) 71 70 72
+5 Y Lin (Chn) * 69 72 74, B Steele (US) 73 68 74
+ 6 S Burns (US) 71 69 76, R Fowler (US) 69 72 75
+ 7 K Kisner (US) 70 69 78, R Mansell 72 69 76, P Saksansin (Tha) 73 68 76