There was no drop-off or gagging by unknown British Open Day 2 leader Louis Oosthuizen, left, on Saturday during the third round as he increased his lead by three strokes, but nipping on his heels — in what’s shaping up to be a head-to-head duel to the finish — is Paul Casey, who surged to within four shots of the lead after his 5-under performance. Neither player has ever won a major championship.
ST. ANDREWS-- While Oosthuizen and Casey were busy keeping a watchful eye on each other’s progress as the third round neared its conclusion, Lee Westwood quietly edged a little closer to both men with a well-crafted birdie four at the 618 yard, par five, 14th to close to within four shots of his playing partner and six of the leader.
Still desperately seeking that vital but so elusive birdie, Casey racked up his sixth successive par on the back nine, when yet another realistic birdie opportunity slipped away.
Slowly but surely the stiff breeze of earlier in the day was starting to die away. And with the setting sun casting ever-lengthening shadows across the closing half-dozen holes, there was a sense that the easier playing conditions might yet see the Old Course offer up a rare birdie opportunity or two.
Meanwhile Paul Casey moved on majestically, increasing his run of pars on the back nine to seven. Playing partner Lee Westwood was giving his all but without anything really happening for him. Like Casey, he too had to settle for a par on the 16th after hitting yet another fine approach shot to within birdie range.
With holes starting to run out for the chasing pack, Oosthuizen then made their task that little bit harder when he rolled home a 36-foot birdie putt to give him an additional cushion over Casey. Although the Englishman must have heard the roar from the enthralled spectators following the final group, this didn’t deter him from hitting a majestic tee shot into the perfect position right in the middle of the 17th fairway. After a bold approach shot to the heart of the long, thin putting surface, two putts gave Casey his 8th successive par of the back nine.
Lee Westwood was now matching his playing partner shot for shot, and he kept his own momentum going with a great par save at the 17th. And so to the final hole where both Westwood and Casey had more than sufficient power to drive the 18th green. Casey hit first and his ball came to rest some 30 yards left of the green, while Westwood also failed to find the green.
Clearly right in the zone, as he had been throughout the whole of his round, Casey produced a classy pitch and run shot that bounced twice before checking up to a halt some five feet from the flag. Surely Casey would at last be rewarded with a birdie three that his great play had so richly deserved? But alas it wasn’t to be, and he two-putted for a wonderful and error free round of 67.
Westwood, though, went one better when he birdied the final hole for what he will feel was a frustrating round of 71 that still left him at seven under par and certainly well in contention for the final day’s play.
The leader had now safely negotiated the dangerous 17th hole by two-putting from just off the green for his par. Now, with the clubhouse clearly in sight, he then proceeded to pound a huge drive down the 18th fairway. And the distant roar that wafted back to him from the stands around the green let him know that his tee shot had found the putting surface.
Much as Oosthuizen would have liked to finish his excellent day’s work with an eagle at the last, like Paul Casey he had to eventually settle for a two putt birdie. This gave the South African a round of 69, but more important a handsome six-shot lead to take into the final round.