DO NOT expect history to repeat itself today. Twelve months after holding the lead heading into the last day, only to implode on the final 11 holes, Bernhard Langer is back in the driving seat with a round to go in the £1.3 million Senior Open Championship.
He limped home at Turnberry, closing with a 75 to finish joint-sixth behind Fred Couples, but it has been a masterclass of German efficiency so far at Royal Birkdale as the two-times Masters champion closes in on a second win in the over-50s major after his 2010 triumph at Carnoustie.
After a third-round 66 for a nine-under-total of 201, his advantage on this occasion is three shots and, with all due respect to a chasing pack that is led by South African David Frost and also includes Sandy Lyle, the outcome again appears to lie in Langer’s hands.
“There’s someone inside expects me to win now and it would be a great feeling to win a major on a course like this that rewards good shots,” said the 55-year-old, who is chasing his 19th title in the senior ranks and third this season. “But there are still another 18 holes to go.”
On a fine day that turned fresh as the final few groups came down the closing stretch, Frost, who is living in a house overlooking the course after moving out of a local hotel earlier in the week, reeled off three birdies on the spin from the seventh to get to seven-under, one off the lead.
Though his charge was halted when he only just managed to escape from a fairway bunker at the tenth, where Colin Montgomerie had come a cropper earlier, he was still clinging to Langer’s coat tails until the leader bounced back from three-putting the 14th – his sole blemish – with two birdies in the final four holes, then Frost bogeyed the last.
“That’s as good as I can play for a stretch of holes,” added Langer. “I went to see my coach, Wili Hofmann, a week ago and, by getting me to swing a little bit flatter, it has made a big impact on my ball-striking.”
Lyle finished 13th at Sunningdale 2009 but missed the cut on four other appearances in this event since turning 50. If Langer does slip up again, he is in a position to pounce. Back-to-back birdies at the 14th and 15th lit up his 69. On three-under, the two-time major champion is joint-fourth but six back.
“Langer is going to be hard to beat, but I knew that after playing with him for the first two days,” said Lyle, whose best finish in 12 starts on the Champions Tour this year is 22nd. “But a posture change I made recently has shown me that my game is starting to turn and, if I can go out tomorrow and shoot 65, then it might give Bernhard a fright.”
For the second day running, Montgomerie’s mood was up and down like a fiddler’s elbow. Out in two-under, he started back with a double-bogey 6 then dropped another shot at 13th. A spring was back in the step after birdies at the 14th, 15th and 17th only for the shoulders to visibly slump with a three-putt closing bogey, missing from around two-and-a-half feet. After signing for his 69 for 212, it was straight off to the practice putting green.
It was unlikely that Miguel Angel Martin needed to spend much time there. His five-under-par 65 matched the best effort of the week, the Spaniard producing a flawless six-birdie display over the final 14 holes on a course showing ample teeth even though the breeze has never been more than stiff from the off.