Big-game hunters: Justin Rose and Brooks Koepka are ready to pounce on leader Shane Lowry at The Open
- Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose continue to creep forwards at The Open
- Both men have the ability to pounce if Shane Lowry slips up on the final day
- Challenging weather conditions have been forecast at Royal Portrush
- Koepka’s resilience may still allow him to claim a fifth major title in the past 10
There wasn’t much talking between them but in the silence of the 35th pairing, two big-game hunters just kept creeping forwards.
Not sufficiently fast to keep pace with Shane Lowry, but it seems a fair bet that they are close enough for him to have had a disrupted night.
Presumably there can be no more worrying sight in the rear-view mirror at this stage of a major than the brooding, muscular silhouette of Brooks Koepka. And it can hardly be a comfort that right next to him at nine under is Justin Rose.
Brooks Koepka (L) shakes hands with Justin Rose after the third round of the British Open
Two major winners, one Olympic champion, a pair of men who don’t seem to share many traits beyond their resilience under pressure and the related ability to close the tournaments that matter. To discount either man’s capability of bridging the seven-shot chasm in the forecasted bad weather would be bonkers.
In the case of Koepka, it is simply astonishing how effective he has become is in these scenarios. The sheer consistency of it. The repetition of performance in a man who readily admits he puts no great tariff on regular tour victories and on Sunday chases his fifth major title in the past 10.
Only Tiger Woods can relate to that level of concentrated dominance, and yet it is necessary to consider the American has reached this point at Portrush in spite of himself.
Put simply, he has not looked satisfied. Often that is just his disposition, but here he knows he has been held back by the recurring weakness of his putting. By his reckoning he would have been 10 under through two rounds if the putts had dropped and it got no better in his four-under-par 67 in the third.
Justin Rose putts on the 16th green at Royal Portrush, Northern Ireland, on Saturday
His play from tee to green was exceptional, among the very best in the field. Of the 18, he was on the short grass in regulation 14 times. And often he was in close.
But that putter. Some were good putts that missed by a fraction, such as that at one and his strokes for eagle at two and 17. But what of the more makeable ones? At three, four, eight, 10, 11, 13 and 15 he missed putts of 15 feet or less. All near misses, all chances not taken. Pacing the slow greens on a British links can be an art in itself and so far it would appear to be Koepka’s shortcoming.
Again, to think what might have been if that component of his game was firing like the rest of it. His body language for much of the round would indicate he was battling with that same gnawing thought. His words after the round confirmed it.
‘Nobody has hit it better than me this week,’ he said. ‘I’ve hit it as good as I could possibly imagine. But I putted the worst in the entire field. Very frustrating.
Brooks Koepka acknowledges the crowd after saving par on the 12th green
‘But thankfully it’s going to blow in the final round. To have any sort of chance I need to figure out the putter. But I need it (strong winds). Being seven back you need some wind, you need some rain.’ Having birdied all three of the par fives, as well as the tough 14th and the final two holes, Koepka’s is the most intimidating name in the chasing pack.
Asked if his rivals would pay extra attention to his presence on the leaderboard, he said: ‘I’m looking at the top spot, that’s it. That’s the only thing I’m looking at. I’m assuming they probably do. But at the same time I have no idea.’
Rose is more understated in most ways, but his play was no less impressive. For a start, in his 68 he was driving similar lengths to the monster strikes of Koepka, albeit a little looser on the front nine, in which he balanced a birdie at two with a dropped shot at eight.
Shane Lowry tops the leaderboard heading into the final day of the 148th Open Championship
It was on the back that the 2013 US Open champion ignited, going eagle, birdie, par, birdie from the 12th. He was flying before a bogey at the long par three 16th.
He said: ‘I’m happy because I didn’t want to put too many guys ahead of me going into the final. You just never know what kind of day they may or may not have in a tough weather day.
‘The thing is with Shane, though, if there is a tough-weather-day player, it probably is him.’
And yet if there is a chasing pair that might inject a few nerves into a galloping frontrunner, it is Rose and Koepka. Game on.