SANDWICH, ENGLAND — Rickie Fowler played the first two rounds of the British Open with his contemporary and peer, Rory McIlroy, as a playing partner. When both reached the midpoint of the tournament at even par, they ended up together again in Saturday’s third round. It was, for Fowler, an up-close look at a player he considers both a friend and rival who has, at age 22, achieved something Fowler hasn’t yet: winning not only a professional tournament, but a major championship.
“It definitely motivated me and gave me more confidence just because [he’s a] similar age, similar part of our career,” Fowler said of McIlroy’s victory at the U.S. Open last month at Congressional. “I’d say he’s a step ahead of me.”
Fowler, though, took a step forward Saturday, firing a 68 in adverse conditions in the third round to get to 2 under par for the tournament. He is tied with Thomas Bjorn for third, three shots back of Darren Clarke.
Despite the fact that he doesn’t have a professional win, last year’s PGA Tour rookie of the year is one of the most recognizable figures in the game, what with his flat-brimmed hats and outrageous monochrome Puma outfits. But Fowler, who made three birdies in a four-hole stretch from Nos. 13 to 16 Saturday, knows what he lacks.
“I’d love for my first win to be a major, and I’d love for it to be here,” Fowler said. “I’m playing every tournament to win, be in contention, and give it a shot, so I’m in a perfect place” going into Sunday.
Fowler shared the 54-hole lead with Nick Watney at the AT&T National earlier this month, but he shot a 74 on Sunday and was never a factor.
“I’ve just got to make sure I keep having fun,” he said. “I think that’ll keep me, for the most part, kind of mellow and not getting too far ahead of myself.”
McIlroy never got started Saturday, making just one birdie and hitting his drive at the par-5 14th out of bounds to the right, leading to a double bogey en route to 74.
“You’ve done so well for 13 holes to keep yourself in it,” McIlroy said, “and then to hit — you’ve got half of Kent on your left, and you hit it right, it was a bit disappointing. It was a tough one to take.”
Paul Lawrie, the Scotsman who won the Open in 1999, began Saturday 3 over, potentially in the mix. But he played in the worst of the conditions, teeing off at 9:05 a.m., and was defeated almost from the start. He bogeyed the third, then made a triple bogey at the par-4 fourth, which was played from a forward tee because it was directly into the wind. Not far enough forward, Lawrie believed.
“It’s 250 [yards] to reach the fairway in a howling gale,” Lawrie lamented. “Can’t get there. I hit it in a bunker. You could have put that tee up much further. It was only about three or four people in the field that can hit the ball 250 in a howling gale. Apart from that, it was brutal.”
Lawrie’s result: an 81 that, amazingly, included an eagle at the par-5 seventh. . . .
Phil Mickelson, seeking just his second top-10 finish in 18 Open appearances, opened with three bogeys in his first six holes. But he played the final 12 in 2 under to get to even par for the tournament, in a six-way tie for seventh. “Certainly, I’ve got to do something really good tomorrow. It’s fun for me to come over here and have a chance on Sunday,” he said. . . .
Tom Lewis, the 20-year-old amateur from the London suburbs who was a co-leader after the first round, shot 76 Saturday and is 5 over for the tournament. Lewis made seven birdies in the first round, and has made two since. He leads Oklahoma State’s Peter Uihlein by two shots in the battle for low amateur.