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Australians chasing Open glory

(Photo: Bruce Young)
Australian golf has perhaps its greatest representation of chances ever heading into the final round of an Open Championship, Jason Day one of three leaders, Adam Scott and Marc Leishman just three from the lead and Steven Bowditch another shot back.

Day is chasing his first major championship just a month after illness cost him a chance of that breakthrough at the US Open but, now fully fit and healthy, he is on the verge of much deserved major success.

"Yeah, I mean, to be honest, it's -- it was tough with what went on at the U.S. Open, and then even though I wanted to finish a little bit better, I was just glad to get it done," said Day. "To be able to come back pretty much three weeks later and play the way I've been playing, I know this is one of those events that I haven't really played well in the past.

"I think my previous best finish here is T30. I mean, it's not my strongest major, and I've always said at the start of this week, I said, I'm looking forward to changing that this week. You know, I'm just very happy with how my health has progressed and where it's going, and overall, just I feel healthy and I feel up to the challenge tomorrow. I'm looking forward to an exciting finish, not only for myself but from everyone else."

Day produced a bogey free round of 67 today to join Irish amateur Paul Dunne and South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen in the lead one ahead of the pre-tournament favourite Jordan Spieth and two ahead of two time champion Padraig Harrington.

Nine players are just three from the lead, that group including Australians Scott and Leishman.

Scott rued what he thought was a missed opportunity today. "I was slightly off my rhythm in the swing today. It just felt a little bit harder than the last couple days, and that's a little frustrating because it was there to be had. The good shots finished close, and there just weren't enough of them for me today. I didn't make all the putts that I could have, but three back, I mean, it's not a lot, really. So I've got a chance."

Leishman recorded the best round of the week when he added a 64 some five hours ahead of the final group and at that point was just one off the lead. The Victorian finished 5th in this event last year after a final round of 65 so he has the capacity to go low tomorrow and could yet be in the mix.

The understated Leishman has the demeanour and manner to handle high pressure situations well and although three back is not yet out of it.

Three months ago Leishman was contemplating his future as his world appeared to be falling apart. His wife Audrey was critically ill and his future in the game appeared bleak.

"Yeah, it was a huge possibility that I wasn't going to be playing golf anymore. Travelling with a one-year-old and a three-year-old by yourself isn't really -- well, it wasn't going to happen. I wouldn't do that to the boys. They're too young to know what's going on. At the time it was just, righto, you're going to have to give it away and stay home with the boys and be a dad, and that was the most important thing, and I was all right with that.

"Obviously the outcome, Audrey is all right now and it's a lot better. Makes things -- well, it's great that she's healthy again. But yeah, that was pretty rough there for a while, thinking about everything, the boys not growing up with their mom, me not playing golf anymore, not having a wife. It was just everything. Unfortunately it probably happens every day to people around the world. We were just really lucky that she's on the mend. A lot of people -- well, we know a couple of people that their wives didn't make it, which is really sad, but it does happen."

In some of the most benign conditions possible St Andrews became susceptible to an onslaught from the world's best in round three and the defences she was able to muster over the opening few days disappeared.

No wind and a golf course softened a little further meant a series of low rounds would congest the field and by day's end a round of 64, one of 65, five 66's and ten 67's had been recorded.

Five years ago Oosthuizen took this championship and St Andrews apart with a seven shot victory and a month after staging a remarkable recovery to get within one of the US Open title he has another chance at a major championship. Three birdies in his last five holes have him in a share of the lead.

Oosthuisen enthused over the chance he has given himself on his favourite golf course. "It's so much fun to be playing The Open, playing for the Claret Jug. It's the biggest tournament that I can play in. Playing it around St. Andrews makes it obviously a lot more special. I think every time I come here, even if it's for the Dunhill, if I play around St. Andrews, I really enjoy the track. I love playing it. You know, The Open, playing it around here, I hope they have it here every year."

The amateur Dunne has impressed all with his composed manner and the quality of his game but can he win?

"I think it'll be the same as the last three days, just look at the weather, see what the weather is going to throw at us and then put a number in my head that I think I need to shoot. I'm not really going to think about winning or where I'm going to finish until the last few holes. If my strategy needs to change a little bit. But yeah, I can't control what other people do. Everyone could go out and shoot 63 or everyone could shoot 75. All I can do is control committing to my shots and hopefully leaves me in good stead at the end of the day."

Just one shot from the lead, however, is the remarkable, Jordan Spieth, whose hopes of winning his third consecutive major championship and keeping alive his chances of a Grand Slam were retained with a third round of 66 to get within one.

The magnitude of what he might accomplish tomorrow is huge but the 21 year old is keeping it in check. "I'm not sure. It hasn't come up in my head while I've been playing yet. I can't speak for tomorrow given it's the last round, and if I have a chance coming down the stretch, if it creeps in, I'll embrace it. I'll embrace the opportunity that presents itself.

"As far as handling it, I don't look at it as a negative thing, I look at it almost as an advantage. Why should it add more pressure in a negative way? If it adds more pressure, it just makes me feel like this is something that's a little more special, let's go ahead and get the job done. I know it's easier said than done, but when you say added pressure, most people associate that with negativity or something that can hinder what's comfortable. For me, I think it could be advantageous."

The final round of the 144th Open Championship is shaping as one of the most gripping in recent years for a range of reasons.

The possibility of Spieth becoming just the second player to win the first three majors of the year since this event 62 years ago and become the world number one, the chance of a fifth Australian to win the Claret Jug and the chance of an amateur winning the event for the first time since Bobby Jones in 1930 to name but a few.

Bring it on.

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