There are probably 12 golfers who have a chance to win the Open Championship, those at even par or better: Darren Clarke, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Thomas Bjorn, Miguel Angle Jimenez, Lucas Glover followed by Anthony Kim, Phil Mickelson, Anders Hansen, George Coetzee, Davis Love III and Martin Kaymer.
The first six have realistic chances, and the last six have outside chances.
Farther back than that, someone would have to shoot lower than the best score of the week, which was a 65 by Tom Lewis, the amateur who made the cut, and Thomas Bjorn. In addition, they would have to get help from all of the 12 players in front of them, having half of them shoot 75 or higher. Those two scenarios happening at the same time are unlikely.
However, all scores will be dependent on the weather. There’s supposed to be rain and sun and wind. Or, in other words, Sunday could be a repeat of Saturday. It’s just that no one can currently predict when there will be sun and when there will be rain. The wind is a given, supposedly with gusts to 30 mph.
Today, playing in sideways rain, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson shot the lowest rounds of the day, 68. So 68s are possible, even in horrible conditions.
Fowler saw almost no good weather. Johnson saw perhaps six to eight holes when it was not howling and wet. Second-round leader Darren Clarke and his playing partner Lucas Glover saw about nine holes, weather impacted by wind, but not rain.
Clarke missed at least four makeable birdie putts and posted a one-under par 69. In the could-have, should-have world, he could have had a 65. That would have made it nearly impossible for anyone to catch him in bad weather unless he were to shoot 80 or more on Sunday.
Since nothing is impossible in golf, and since there were four scores in the low 80s, count on a few 80s to materialize since Sunday weather is due to be a repeat of Saturday’s—80s could happen to anybody.
Darren Clarke put on a clinic in bad weather play Saturday. Should he show the same ball-striking form on Sunday, he will be hard to beat if he makes just 50 percent of the putts he needs to make. Should he shoot two-under par, a 68, he ought to take home the Claret Jug.
"That was about as good as I could do from tee to green. On the green was not quite the same, to say the least, but from tee to green I was very pleased with the way I played," Clarke said about his round.
"Nineteen times I've failed to try and lift the Claret Jug, and tomorrow I have an opportunity," Clarke added. But at the moment it's just an opportunity because the weather is going to be very "windy again tomorrow, and there's a long way to go still in this championship. But I'm very pleased to be leading going into the last round."
He said some of the putts he missed were good ones and some were bad ones.
"All you can do is read them as best you can, and there was a few misreads in there, and I did the best I could in each one," he said about the putting mishaps. "I haven't always been able to stay patient whenever that's the case, but I have been able to do it this week. Spending time with Dr. Bob and what have you, has sort of helped me get back into that mind frame."
Clarke said he would spend the evening at Chubby Chandler’s (his agent).
"Chubby has got fantastic chefs in there, and I'll probably stuff my face and go to bed at about 10:00 and try not to drink too much," Clarke said about his plan between the end of the day Saturday and his tee time Sunday. "Tomorrow morning I'll probably get up and stuff my face again. I'll just relax and watch a little bit of the golf or whatever, but I'll be fine."
Dustin Johnson, one stroke back, finished strong with four birdies and two bogeys on the back nine. He did not seem to be bothered by the conditions, and his prodigious distance is an advantage. In addition, he is a putting machine when he gets going. If he were to start strong with a birdie or two on the front and no big numbers, another 68 might secure the title for him. It would put psychological pressure on Darren Clarke.
"I try to just steer clear of the bunkers is the main thing, off the tee," Johnson said about his strategy. "Around the greens you can get up and down out of a bunker, but off the tee if you hit it in the bunker, you're chipping out every time."
He expects to be fine playing in the final group.
"I've been in this situation a few times, so I think the more and more you can put yourself in a situation, the more comfortable you get,” he added. “I know how to—I know how to approach it, and I know what I do in those situations."
Like anyone, he would rather have the lead. "It's one less shot I've got to make up."
Johnson does not expect to be the favorite of the gallery.
"He's on his home turf, so I would expect him to have huge crowd support," he said about Darren Clarke. “But the fans have been great out there for me, so I think I'll have a little bit of support out there.”
Rickie Fowler, in a chasing position, can free-wheel it. He just needs to go out and play Sunday the same way he finished on Saturday. He cannot afford any others. Since he is three back of the lead, he has to go as low as possible. He might need a 66 and until he gets to the golf course, he will not know if there is a 66 out there.
"I felt like I was very in control of my game and it was nice to make some putts late in the round there," he said. "I love links golf. I love the variety and the options you get on the course."
Fowler said attitude was a big part of dealing with the weather.
"You have to kind of embrace where you're at and what's in front of you," he added. "We knew it was going to play hard, and we knew it was going to be tough to make any birdies out there today. But when you make the best of it and go at it with the right attitude, 68 is possible. But I had to play pretty well to do that."
His goal is to make some putts in contention.
"And I think you'll see some orange tomorrow," he concluded.
Phil Mickelson, at even par, has an uphill battle. In the could-have, should-have category, there were a number of short putts that Mickelson missed. He could have been at three under instead of even. Mickelson two shots back is dangerous. Mickelson five shots back, it’s a long climb to reach the trophy. He would have to get help from Darren Clarke, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Thomas Bjorn, Miguel Angle Jimenez and Lucas Glover. They would all have to shoot well over par, and Mickelson would have to shoot a 65 or 66. It could happen, but it is not the most likely outcome.
"I'll have to pick my spots," Mickelson said about the challenge ahead of him. "Early on, though, there's some tough holes, namely 3 and 4. Those are the two really difficult holes. When 3 plays in a crosswind to get it in that little alley is difficult, and 4 into the wind is tough. So you try to make pars there. But there's some opportunities. You can birdie 1, you can birdie 2, 5 downwind, you hit a good tee shot, you make birdie there. But it doesn't really happen until you get to about 7. Once you get past 7 and past 8, there's some really good opportunities out there to make birdies."
He said he got lucky with the weather every day and that after the turn they thought birdie instead of par. Mickelson doesn’t think he is too far back to win.
"There's nothing more exciting than on Sunday having a chance in a major," he explained. "Now, I know that I'm not leading, but I'm also right there. I know I'm right there, and if I play a good, solid round of a couple under par, I don't know how many, it might have to be. Six, might only have to be two, depends on the weather. If I can get it under par, I'm going to have a good chance tomorrow. To me that is so much fun, and I'm excited. I feel like it's my first time over here."
When assessing Darren Clarke’s toughness, it is important to remember he defeated Tiger Woods one-on-one in Woods’ prime. He has been through family heartbreak. He has been at the bottom of his golf game. No matter what happens Sunday, Darren Clarke will be fine with Darren Clarke. Seeing him in the winner’s circle would be an amazing story.
Kathy Bissell is a Featured Columnist Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.
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