The stage is set for a British Masters battle royale
You can imagine they are a rather happy lot at Close House this evening.
There are 17 players within four shots of the lead, 11 of those are only two adrift. This is every British Masters dream come true.
With so many possibilities to run over only 18 holes of golf, let’s get our thinking caps on and analyse who’s got the best chance of claiming Newcastle glory….
Rory McIlroy simply hoped he would be in the last half dozen groups. He’ll be ecstatic to be only two shots back and it is no surprise he’s now the clear favourite with all the oddsmakers.
As the Northern Irishman has already intimated, much will depend on his start. McIlroy mastered the first few holes today and it proved the basis for an excellent 64.
Pick up a couple of early birdies – put some pressure straight away on the leaders – and he could be hard to stop if he continues his third round form.
McIlroy has the length to bludgeon this course. He can drive a couple of the par 4s and all of the 5s are well within his reach.
He did tournament host Lee Westwood a favour by competing. There’s every chance he now makes off with the trophy.
Speaking of the home favourite, has the back nine done for him? It was serene progress all the way to the top of the leaderboard – with a three under front nine.
But a poor approach on the 13th and that issue that always seems to blight Westwood when he’s right in the mix – the nervy short putt – saw him give it all back on the way home.
That left him where he started and, even though the leaders didn’t get anywhere near the heights of some of the earlier starters, it was still a day where you had to move forward.
Westwood can still win, of course, but having been in the box seat he’s now got to chase and that isn’t really what you want to do on this golf course.
Robert Karlsson was once European number one. But that was a long time ago and the 48-year-old hasn’t won on tour since 2010.
The Colt course must really suit his eye because there’s nothing in his recent form – he’s only made six cuts all year – to explain why he’s leading the field.
Karlsson knows how to win – he’s done it 11 times on the European Tour. But is it just like riding a bike? Will be remember what to do when the pressure’s at its highest?
I feared for Ian Poulter when he dumped his ball in the water on the 5th and made a double bogey. But he showed some real grit to hang around and was the only player in the field to birdie the last.
I felt pre-tournament this course was perfect for him. Now he needs to prove he can cut it still on a Sunday afternoon.
It’s been five years since he last lifted a trophy. That’s a long time.
Tyrrell Hatton’s usually a capable front runner, which makes his 71 today all the more surprising. He largely kept his temper under control, though, and that’s normally his undoing.
Having already managed to shoot 63 and 65 round Close House, a repeat of that – and he’s more than capable – will be sufficient.
Only a shot back, having shorn a three shot lead, perhaps the ability to chase – rather than protect – will help on Sunday.
The 39-year-old is in decent nick, having come third in Portugal last week, and is enjoying a career year.
Sixth at Wentworth for the PGA Championship, don’t be fooled into thinking the size of the tournament might faze him.
We haven’t even discussed the likes of Chris Wood, Shane Lowry and Matt Fitzpatrick – who are all within touching distance – or Paul Dunne, Richie Ramsay and Chris Hanson – who are making up some of the final groups.
It all means we are in for a dramatic final day. Stick a pin it. This could be anyone’s.
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