SANDWICH, England (Reuters) – Fierce winds and horizontal rain provided the ultimate test for British Open survivors on Saturday as the third round descended into an exercise in damage-limitation.
After two days of steady winds had created the perfect balance between the players and the lunar-like Royal St George’s links, the 7,211-yard layout unleashed its full fury.
No fewer than 42 players began the day within five shots of the lead shared by Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland and American Lucas Glover at four under par.
By the time home favorite Rory McIlroy teed at off at 1135 GMT (7:35 a.m. EDT) the only player under par for the day was American veteran Tom Watson who continued to charm the large galleries, braving the wild weather that was forecast to last most of the day.
The 61-year-old tapped in a birdie at the seventh and then sank a 25-foot par putt at the eighth as he reached turn in a remarkable one-under for his round and firmly in contention to lift the Claret Jug for the sixth time.
Big-hitting compatriot Gary Woodland also had the measure of the conditions early on, playing the brutal outward nine in two-under-par before the conditions beat him back and he carded consecutive bogeys at the 12th and 13th.
With jagging crosswinds making even the most routine-looking shots treacherous it was a morning for battening down the hatches and trying to stay in contention with birdies like gold-dust and pars a job well done.
South African Trevor Immelman reached the turn in level-par 35 but sadly for many, their hopes, like many of the multi-colored umbrellas blanketing the course, were already in tatters long before the leaders were exposed to the elements.
Paul Lawrie, who prevailed at Carnoustie in 1999, had a torrid day. Starting at three over, he racked up eight bogeys, one double bogey and a triple to plummet out of contention.
Another big sufferer was Frenchman Gregory Havret who took a 10 at the par-five 14th.
Stewart Cink, winner two years ago, began the day one over but he dropped four shots in his first six holes.
With winds expected to get even stronger during the middle of the afternoon, however, the full picture of what is a good score will only come into focus at the end of the day.
“It was very wet, very cool and very windy,” first-man out Matthew Millar, who did not even have a playing partner, said after carding an 80. “It was a real beast today.”
Leaders Clarke and Glover were scheduled to tee off at 1405.