News & ToursJuly 19, 2009

Now comes the hard part

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- Don't let the sweaters and ski caps fool you. What, by all appearances, should be a difficult day at Turnberry -- complete with bent flagsticks and whitecaps surfacing on the Firth of Clyde -- has actually yielded some low scores early in the final round.

The 16-year-old Italian amateur Matteo Manassero had three birdies on his front nine and is now one-over par. Paul Lawrie signed for a 68. And perhaps most notably, Ernie Els is three under for the day and within four shots of leader Tom Watson.

No one on the course right now has made up any more ground than that on the 59-year-old Watson, who is set to tee off at 2:20 local time. But a manageable-enough day for scoring so far does present the question: doesn't Watson need it to be difficult to have a chance? One would assume he does. Because unless he can continue to roll in birdie putts from off the property here, then a favorable setup  and relatively benign conditions might only negate his advantage as the craftiest links golfer in history.

"The course today is set up for the challengers, not the leader," said Padraig Harrington, whose claret jug run ended with a four-round total of 12-over par.

Els, in particular, poses a unique threat. Five years after he was nipped at the finish line down the road at Troon by the obscure Todd Hamilton, he has made hardly a peep in a major since. But with the exception of Watson, he is the most accomplished player on the leaderboard. And as John Huggan argued on this site just a couple of days ago, there is little reason to think he can't contend at the highest level again

Should Els claim a second Open to go with his win at Muirfield, perhaps this would be best way for him to do it, by sneaking in a good score before Watson even approaches the first tee, and then sitting back to watch the rest of the day unfold.

--* Sam Weinman*

More from The Loop