British Open 2014: Separating Contenders from Pretenders Before the Final Round
After an unprecedented two-tee start early Saturday morning with the expectation of bad weather that never came, things look much the same on the leaderboard as they did last night.
Entering Sunday's final round at the Open Championship, the top of the leaderboard looks like this:
- Rory McIlroy: -16
- Rickie Fowler: -10
- Sergio Garcia: -9
- Dustin Johnson: -9
- Victor Dubuisson: -8
- Edoardo Molinari: -7
- Matteo Manassero: -6
- Adam Scott: -6
- Jim Furyk: -6
- Robert Karlsson: -6
- Charl Schwartzel: -6
Who of the players above has a legitimate chance to raise the Claret Jug? In short: nobody, unless Rory McIlroy melts down. However, we only have to look to Adam Scott's Sunday collapse two years ago for an example of a top player handing the tournament away on Sunday.
Even assuming a McIlroy-ian meltdown, Robert Karlsson and Matteo Manassero simply don't have the stuff at this point in their respective careers to fire a 65 on Sunday.
So, if Rory McIlroy shoots the aforementioned 75, who from the top 10 could win? Who doesn't have a prayer?
Click through to see.
Contender: Adam Scott
A second-round 73 probably sunk Adam Scott's chances of winning the 2014 Open Championship. He simply didn't make enough putts during that round and left himself too far back entering Saturday.
He was better during the third round, which saw him make five birdies. Unfortunately, a double bogey at the 10th hole kept him from posting a better score.
As it was, the 2013 Masters champion fired a third-round 69. He'll enter the final round well behind Rory McIlroy. However, if the Ulsterman fires a 76 and Scott ties the course-record 65 (which Dustin Johnson fired yesterday, so it can be done) the tournament could be his.
Pretender: Edoardo Molinari
Edoardo Molinari grabbed headlines when, along with his brother Francesco, he shot a four-under 68 in the opening round.
He faltered with a 73 in the second round, however, and even with better play on Saturday, he'll enter Sunday too far back of leader Rory McIlroy to really have a chance.
His best finish at an Open Championship is a tie for 27th in 2010, so the 33-year-old Italian is poised to improve upon this career-best finish at least.
Molinari's third-round 68 leaves him nine strokes behind McIlroy entering the final round.
Contender: Charl Schwartzel
The 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel is a proven major winner. The South African fired a final-round 66 at Augusta that year. Thus, he's capable of making up ground during the final round of a major, which is a rare talent.
If there's a 65 out there at Hoylake on Sunday, Schwartzel will be one of the few golfers with the proven ability to go out and get it.
He'll also be one of the only golfers within relative striking distance of leader Rory McIlroy, and he already carded a 67 in difficult conditions earlier in the tournament.
A third-round 72 positions Schwartzel 10 strokes behind McIlroy entering Sunday.
Pretender: Victor Dubuisson
Frenchman Victor Dubuisson got hot during his third round, carding four birdies in five holes. Unfortunately, this isn't an indication that he'll be up to the task of making up several strokes to catch a proven major winner on Sunday.
You never want to overextend the significance of a hot stretch of holes, and Dubuisson hasn't indicated he could win this tournament across the 54 holes he's played thus far.
Dubuisson has never finished better than a tie for 28th at any major in his career. Although he's only 24, he's yet to display the breakthrough stuff one expects to see from a young major winner.
Look for Dubuisson to fade on Sunday as he enters the round eight shots behind McIlroy.
Contender: Jim Furyk
Jim Furyk, eternal grinder that he is, has four career top-fives at the Open Championship. He's just the type of player who could plod along and fire a Sunday 67 or 68 that could hold up if the leaders falter.
Furyk opened the tournament with a tidy 68. He was bogey-free on his front nine Saturday, and he will need more of the same on Sunday. Furyk has the right combination of accuracy, scrambling ability and grittiness to get the job done at an Open Championship.
He'll need help if he wants to raise the Claret Jug, but don't count Jim Furyk out. At six under, he trails McIlroy by 10 heading into Sunday.
Pretender: Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson, unfortunately, looks more like a pretender than a contender through three rounds. Although he's had some bad luck in the final rounds of majors, Johnson, now 30, is beginning to look like an extremely gifted player who simply doesn't have what it takes to win a major (like Sergio Garcia).
After a brilliant second-round 65, Johnson struggled during his third round, making three straight bogeys from holes seven through nine, which derailed him.
Johnson didn't seem up to the task of playing in the final group on Saturday. It doesn't look like the big hitter is poised to reprise his second-round 65 on Sunday.
After carding a 71 on Saturday, Johnson trails McIlroy by seven strokes.
Contender: Rickie Fowler
Paired with Sergio Garcia during his third round, Rickie Fowler was brilliant, knocking down flags with iron approaches all day long.
Back-to-back 69s on Thursday and Friday set the stage for a brilliant performance Saturday, and he briefly pulled even with leader Rory McIlroy before a couple of costly back-nine bogeys.
For Fowler, this tournament marks the second major in a row where he'll be a factor on Sunday. Whatever the outcome, it's clear that the young Californian is poised to be a contender in majors going forward as he continues to define himself with substance, in addition to style.
As Brendan Prunty of the New Jersey Star-Ledger wrote yesterday, "For the majority of his young career, Fowler's biggest claim to fame has been a handful of non-golf items: He's the guy who wears the big oversized hat; He's the guy who wears highlighter outfits; He's the guy who has been golf's Justin Bieber...But that's changing this season."
The Oklahoma State alum trails McIlroy by six entering the final round.
Pretender: Sergio Garcia
Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia both stiffed their approach shots at the 12th hole during their third rounds. Fowler poured in his putt. Garcia, with the opportunity to pull within two of leader Rory McIlroy, made a poor stroke and missed his putt, letting a prime birdie opportunity get away.
The anecdote conveys the unfortunate essence of Sergio Garcia at the majors: minor mistakes in critical moments, which, when tallied, leave him on the outside looking in.
Episodes like the putt at No. 12 are the reason Garcia has seven career top-10s at the Open Championship and zero victories.
Sergio Garcia, at nine under, trails McIlroy by seven.
Contender: Rory McIlroy
Let's begin with the fact that Rory McIlroy has led the 2014 Open Championship at the end of all three rounds thus far and the fact that he is a two-time major champion.
Although Rickie Fowler mounted a charge Saturday, there's no reason to think that McIlroy—who is in the midst of a resurgence—will falter during the final round.
While starting the first two rounds of the tournament with a 66, McIlroy showcased his powerful and precise driving, as well as solid iron play and a deft touch with the flatstick. Although he wasn't quite as solid Saturday, he didn't give any indication that he's poised for a Sunday meltdown.
McIlroy leads the field by six after his Saturday round.
And as he said during his second-round press conference (per Ewan Murray of The Guardian), “I have an inner peace on the golf course. I just feel very comfortable. I’m very comfortable in this position. I’m very comfortable doing what I’m doing right now."
That comfort should lead to lifting the Claret Jug on Sunday.