Elemental battle

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

SOUTHPORT, England – For the first time in days, the sun crept through the cloud cover hovering over Royal Birkdale and provided a respite from the incessant rain.

But anyone thinking the change in conditions would make the British Open any less of a challenge on the bodies and minds of golf's elite was sorely mistaken.

If anything, the fierce gusts of wind rushing in off the Irish Sea over the Merseyside links course were even tougher to cope with than the driving rain of the opening two days.

So strong was the gale that tournament officials flirted with a suspension of play, as balls refused to stay put on the hardening greens and were blown off their landing spots.

"So many shots, so many putts, were hit with the ball wobbling," said Sergio Garcia, who finished at nine-over but is not without chances heading into Sunday. "It was close to being called off for a while. The problem was that they knew the wind would keep blowing harder and harder and it wasn't going to calm down."

By the end of the third round the course was bathed in bright sunshine, but that bitter wind continued to snap at the faces of the competitors and public alike. Play slowed considerably as the players took longer to get balanced before striking the ball.

Englishman Simon Wakefield, who fired in one of the best rounds of the day with an even-par 70, was lifted off his feet on his follow-through after playing one shot on the back nine.

Another to excel despite the weather was youngster Anthony Kim, whose 71 put him into a tie for fifth. Kim played into the worst of the conditions – on the 10th green his ball blew eight feet across the green after he had marked it ‐ and had to wait half an hour for the wind to subside.

"It felt like forever but we got through it," said Kim. "What have I learned from my first Open? To bring more warm gear."

The wind was around 20 to 30 mph all day, getting up to around 50 mph at times, and even though several tees were moved up, shots were still travelling up to a 100 yards shorter than normal.

"That was a smart thing, moving the tees up," said Davis Love III, whose even par round left him at nine-over. "But even with that there were some long holes and the ball could get away from you. I hit some fans and scoreboards because of gusts I did not expect."

In many ways this was true links golf and made for a congested leaderboard setting up an intriguing final day. The only shame was that Tiger Woods was not present, denying fans the opportunity to see the game's greatest go head-to-head with the elements.

If the wind gets any stronger though, it could lead to an annoying and unsatisfactory delay on the last afternoon.

"The greens have dried out in the sun," said David Rickman, Director of Rules for the R&A, the organizing body of the British Open. "If we get situations where the ball is consistently moving, are not staying where they came to rest, and there were continued problems, we would have to suspend play."

Patience is the key in conditions such as these, but for so many the temptation to allow frustration to creep in was too strong to resist.

David Duval's day started with a triple bogey from which there was no way back, and from midday onwards the men moving up the leaderboard were those already back in the clubhouse having posted a score.

Whoever emerges from the pack to lift the claret jug, the weather will have been the ultimate victor this week.

Yet for the man who has his name engraved on the trophy there will be the satisfaction of having carved out a Major win in the most testing of environments.

No Tiger maybe, but a snarling, relentless and unpredictable foe to have conquered nonetheless.

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