Rewired Greg Norman emerged from a day of high winds and high drama at Royal Birkdale on Saturday to lead the Open Championship after three rounds.
At 53, he stands just 18 holes away from removing Old Tom Morris from the record books after 141 years as the oldest man to win the Open.
If he can hold on to his lead, he will also be, by a distance of five years, the oldest man to win a Major.
The Australian shot a 72 to take a two-stroke lead into the final day over defending champion Padraig Harrington, who also had a 72, and halfway leader KJ Choi of South Korea, who came in with a 75.
Also remaining firmly in the hunt a further stroke back on a day when some of the world’s best golfers were blown clean off the leaderboard was little-known Englishman Simon Wakefield, one of only four players to match par.
Four players are on seven over — 2003 Open champion Ben Curtis, England’s Ross Fisher, rising United States star Anthony Kim and Swedish newcomer Alexander Noren.
”I rate that as one of the top three hardest rounds of golf that I have ever played, under the circumstances,” Norman said. ”It was just brutal today [Saturday].
”I have the lead now and I have a chance tomorrow, but there is a lot of golf to be played.”
Harrington, who will play in the final pairing with Norman, said that it would be a different scenario to last year at Carnoustie when he came back from six strokes off the pace to defeat Sergio Garcia in a play-off.
”It’s going to be a day for watching others whereas last year the only person that I focused on was me because I had to go forward to have a chance of winning.”
Choi said he had struggled with his putting all day in the wind.
”I will have to try to catch up,” he added. ”I enjoy the golf course, and I’m comfortable on this course. I’m still in a good position. Five over par today [Saturday] is still okay.”
In view of the conditions, tees on the sixth, 11th and 16th were moved forward, reducing the length of the course by a total of 159 yards, and several holes were repositioned to easier spots.
Gusts of up to 72 km/h raised the possibility that play could be suspended at any moment if the balls were moving on the greens, and on several occasions officials came close to doing so.
Overnight leader by one and bidding to become the first Asian golfer to win a Major, Choi stood firm early on with pars on his first four holes to stretch his outright lead to three strokes at that stage.
Norman, with a huge gallery in tow, bogeyed the first and third holes.
But a wayward drive at the sixth lead to a double bogey for the Korean, followed by another dropped shot at the eighth, and suddenly he was in a four-way tie for the lead with Norman, Harrington and Furyk.
Harrington fell away with a double-bogey five at the 12th where his tee shot nestled into deep rough on a mound overlooking the green, while Furyk took a double-bogey six at the 10th followed by a bogey at the next.
They were soon being gobbled up by English journeyman Wakefield, who was safely in the clubhouse after posting a tremendous par-70 thanks to three birdies on the back nine.
Choi and Norman both came to grief with double bogeys at the tough 10th, but ”The Tank”, as the former weightlifter from the Korean island of Wando used to be known, dug deep to pull ahead again with a birdie at the 13th.
Norman matched him with one of his own at the par-three next hole.
And when Choi bogeyed the par-five 16th, Norman had the outright lead, which he held on to over the final two holes.
Harrington, meanwhile, finished strongly once again with birdies at 15 and 17 to move up to a share of second with Choi.
US veteran Davis Love, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and 2003 Open champion Ben Curtis were the only players other than Wakefield to match the Royal Birkdale par of 70.
The 2002 champion, Ernie Els, and world number two Phil Mickelson both saw their hopes scuppered as they failed to claw back any ground on the leaders and were stranded at 13 over par.
Pre-tournament favourite Garcia, meanwhile, failed to get anything going, coming in with a 74 for a total of 219. But he insisted he still had a chance at seven strokes off the pace. — Sapa-AFP