Recap of the day
Early starters: After the miserable dark skies and drizzle of Friday, Saturday dawned bright and sunny with a strong breeze. Perfect links weather, in other words, and a great test. However, it then eased off as the day wore on so in actual fact the morning starters were ultimately handicapped. Instead, it was those in the mid-rank who were left to try and make an impression. Rickie Fowler’s 66 lifted him to 8-under 205 and Danny Willett went one better on the day – his 65 earning a 7-under total that Jon Rahm (68) and Tony Finau (68) matched.
Leaders: Early on it appeared that this would be a complete cavalry charge and that as many as 20 would remain close to the lead come Sunday morning, but of course that rarely happens. In fact, four players pulled three clear of the field and of them only Lee Westwood fell back. Tommy Fleetwood was superb in compiling a 66 for 12-under 201, JB Holmes hung tough for a 69 and 203, Brooks Koepka closed strongly for 9-under thanks to a 67 and Justin Rose joined him on that number with a 68. But none could match the local hero. Amid sensationally loud scenes he smashed a thrilling 8-under-par 63 to total 16-under 197 and take a four shot lead into the final round.
Leaderboard: -16 Lowry, -12 Fleetwood, -10 Holmes, -9 Koepka, Rose, -8 Fowler, Westwood, -7 Willett, Rahm, Finau, Spieth
Notables: -6 Stenson, Kuchar, -5 Schauffele, -2 McDowell, D.Johnson, -1 Garcia, +2 Molinari,
Low round of the day: The leader’s 63
Revised outright betting: Lowry 8/15, Fleetwood 7/2, Koepka 11/1, Rose 20/1, Holmes 33/1, Fowler 40/1, Rahm 66/1
Sunday weather forecast
This could get interesting. Heavy rain is more or less a given and the wind will whip the players at a consistent 18 to 20 mph with the possibility of gusts above 30 mph. As a consequence of this filthy forecast the tee times have been moved forward. The last group will head out at 1.47 p.m. local time.
Leaders after at 54 holes
Shane Lowry (63, 197) – A marvelous lap that lacked one mistake and witnessed three front nine birdies and five on the way home. He missed just one green and PGATour.com reports that he leads SG: Off the Tee with a whopping 13.519 and Tee to Green with 18.440. He’s third in Approach the Green on 4.921.
Tommy Fleetwood (66, 201) – Another flawless lap. In his case he ticked five holes to the 12th but then was becalmed. He missed two greens in regulation and he ranks second for SG: Off the Tee (11.519) and Tee to Green (14.440), T6th for Approach the Green (2.921).
JB Holmes (69, 203) – He made birdies at 2, 3 and 12 to keep pace with playing partner Lowry, but the pressure paid with back-to-back bogeys at 13 and 14. He circled the final hole from 20’0”.
Brooks Koepka (67, 204) – Made three birdies through 12 holes, but then became messy going bogey-birdie-bogey at 13 through 15. Drove the 17th green and two-putted for a birdie then dropped another from 25’0” at the last to slide into a menacing position.
Justin Rose (68, 204) – Hit the turn in level-par after one birdie and one bogey. Coming home he caught fire with an eagle-3 from 20’0” at 12 followed by birdies at the 13th and 15th, but failed to save par from wide of the 16th and parred his way home, performing an unusually petulant club swirl after an errant approach to 18.
Fate of the Favourites
Rory McIlroy – missed cut
Brooks Koepka – see above
Dustin Johnson (72, 211) – Can’t keep the bogeys off his card. Made four and could only compensate with three birdies.
Jon Rahm (68, 206) – Swapped three birdies and a bogey to the 14th, then reeled off another three par breakers at 14, 16 and 17 but will be furious he gave a shot back at the last.
(No need to apologize about going heavy with the leader.)
Shane Lowry (63): “Honestly, that's the most incredible day I've ever had on the golf course. I honestly can't explain what it was like. I said to Bo (his caddie) walking off the 17th tee, ‘We might never have a day like this on the golf course again. So let's enjoy this next half hour. You know what I mean?’ And that's what I did. The crowd was incredible. I just can't believe what it was like.”
“Tomorrow is going to be a difficult day. I know there's some bad weather coming in. But I'm in a good position and I just have to do what I've been doing all year and hit the reset button tonight.”
“If I'm sitting here this time tomorrow evening it will be like one of the biggest things that ever happened to me, there's no denying that. But in Oakmont (when he fluffed a four shot 54 hole lead) my golf just meant a lot more to me back then, than it does now. I'm not saying that it doesn't mean everything, it's my career. But I've got certain things in my life that make it different. I've got family now. No matter what I shoot tomorrow my family will be waiting for me.”
“At Abu Dhabi at the start of this year, four ahead going into the final round, I said to my wife, just wait for me when I finish, because no matter what happens I'm going to be either standing there with the trophy or it's going to be a disappointing day. And it's going to be the same thing tomorrow.”
JB Holmes (69): "It wasn't my day. It feels like that. It wasn't like it was terrible. But you're playing with a guy making everything, it feels like you shot a million. But I played well."
Fleetwood (66): “You play your game. You do your thing. I'm very, very happy to have that challenge. If you had said at the start of today, at the start of the week, at the start of the year, you're going into the last round, whether I'm four back, five back, it doesn't matter, I'm in the last group Sunday at The Open and playing with Shane, and the majority of the crowd might not be with you, I would have said, ‘Yeah, that's fine.’ I'm looking forward to it, to be honest with you. It's going to be another chapter in my career, no matter what happens. And it's going to be a very special day.”
Koepka (67): “I can chase, especially the way I'm striking the ball. I've struck it so good. If it's going to be windy, you need to be able to strike it good, control your flight, and figure out where you want the ball to end up. If it's going to blow 30, it can get out of control very quickly.”
Rose (68): “You've got to look at it (someone with a big lead) as a plus. I've always looked at it as, whenever some guy's stretched the lead, I've always said, ‘Where's second place?’ You never know what the leader is going to do. You've always got to look at where the chasing pack is and stay relevant to them. If a guy goes ahead and continues to play great and the wind is going away, and you tip your hat and say, ‘Well done’.”
Finau (68): “I'm going to be in aggressive mode. It's trying to win the tournament. I'm not trying to come close. So play aggressive, I'm going to have to.”
Rahm (68): “Hoping the leaders don't play good, right? But still, I'm going to have to be pretty aggressive to make up a lot of shots.”
Fowler (66): “Regardless of how far back we are we're going to go out there tomorrow and give it a run and leave it all out there, especially with the weather we're supposed to potentially have.”
Road to victory in the Open
2018 Francesco Molinari – R1: 18th, R2: 29th, R3: 5th
2017 Jordan Spieth – R1: 1st, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2016 Henrik Stenson – R1: 12th, R2: 2nd, R3: 1st
2015 Zach Johnson – R1: 2nd, R2: 4th, R3: 6th
2014 Rory McIlroy – R1: 1st, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
Notes: 22 of the last 23 winners were T9 or better at this stage. Paul Lawrie in 1999 overcame the biggest deficit (ten strokes and T14).
Fate of the 54-hole leaders at the Open – where did they finish?
2017 Jordan Spieth – 1st
2016 Henrik Stenson – 1st
2014 Rory McIlroy – 1st
Notes: Since 1996 there have been 30 men with a solo or shared 54 hole lead in the championship and 12 have gone on to claim the win. The two most recent examples of four shot leads are contrasting. Adam Scott (2012) lost, Louis Osothuizen (2010) won.
Focus on – Shane Lowry leading
The Irishman famously won the 2009 Irish Open not only as an amateur, but in filthy conditions. However, he pointed out in his press conference that back in those days he played a lot in wind and rain, but rarely does so now. Indeed he claimed the last time he played in the sort of weather forecast tomorrow was in the third round on this course in the 2012 Irish Open – what he didn’t add is that he shot 76 that day.
What of his record with 54 hole leads? As already discussed he was second in the U.S. Open after having a four-shot lead at this stage. But earlier this year he converted a three-shot third round advantage in the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship. When he won the Irish Open he shared the 54 hole lead and won in a play-off. A shared lead in the 2017 Turkish Airlines Open saw him end the week T8.
Focus on – Tommy Fleetwood chasing
There have been six instances of Fleetwood being in second heading into the final round. Just the once, in the 2017 HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship, did he win.
Focus on – the Abu Dhabi link
Leader Lowry won in Abu Dhabi this year, current second-placed Fleetwood won there in 2017 and 2018, and Rickie Fowler (T6) was victorious there in 2016. For what it’s worth Jamie Donaldson, who won the Irish Open here in 2012, also won at Abu Dhabi in 2013. Just don’t tell first reserve Martin Kaymer, who didn’t get in the field and is a three-time winner in Abu Dhabi.