Darren, Dustin, and Rickie……..sounds like the three leads in a 50’s rockabilly band. Actually two out of the three look the part.
Moving day was actually nudging day today, but these three were the only guys who shot in the 60’s when we had 20 to 30 guys breaking par on the first two days. With these scores they jockeyed to the front of a tightly bunched leaderboard with 12 guys still within five shots of the lead.
When the players arrived at the golf course this morning the caddies knew they were in for a high maintenance Two-Gloves Gainey kind of day-umbrellas, rain gloves, winter mittens, rain suits, wool hats, the works were going to be in and out of the bags all day . The temperature was 60’s and it was raining sideways with winds close to 30 miles an hour. The early games took it on the chin from these conditions and, until Fowler managed to defy the weather of the same name and shoot 68, the 41 players before him had an average score of over 76. Then the weather moderated considerably-at least the rain stopped-and then the singing began because the last 29 players after him shot an average score three and a half strokes better at just under 73.
But it was really the play of these three guys that stood out from the rest of the field. Until Fowler posted a score in red numbers the best score of the day was the grisly Old Tom who had carded a two over 72 showing that he is still has it and is probably the best links player of the modern era. Fowler’s round was instinctive creativity-he managed his trajectories like a wily old veteran-saving pars from everywhere and making three birdies in the last six holes when the rest of the field could not even tread water. The patience he showed belied his age and he displayed a mastery of links shot strategy and execution that you would not expect from an American who probably has only played a couple of handful’s of competitive rounds in conditions like this.
Dustin Johnson showed once again that power and penetrating driving along with a good pitching game and a solid putter can be a huge advantage in managing a score in big winds. John Daly showed that when he won the 1995 Open Championship in howling winds at St. Andrews. Through this day Johnson out drove Clarke by 20 yards and Rickie by 30 yards on average and took only 27 putts on route to his 68.
The 42-year-old Clarke was the most amazing story of all since he is playing strictly on guile and gumption-his ball striking was rock solid and his putting was mediocre. He hit 16 greens on a day when the rest of the field could not hit the broad side of a barn but he took 34 putts on the way to a 69 that could have been a whole lot better. What you could see is that pure ball striking in these kinds of conditions makes for low stress pars-he was one under over his last 10 holes.
The weather for tomorrow is calling for winds on the same level without the driving rain so you have to believe the formula for success will be the same as today. The guys who hit it pure and control their trajectory will get a chance to putt for pars and birdies. If it is anything like today those guys will be few and far between.