British challenge fades away at Troon

TROON, Scotland — Home advantage just isn’t what it used to be.

The British challenge has been somewhat muted at this Open Championship. Indeed, only two players from these shores — Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke — have lifted the Claret Jug since the turn of the century. The last player to win it his own country was Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie in 1999.

The field at Royal Troon has been forced to contend with every challenge links golf has to offer after heavy rain and high winds hit the South Ayrshire coast for a second consecutive day.

Time was when players from overseas would struggle in conditions that were standard for British players, but only one player from the home nations — England’s Andrew Johnston — is inside the top 10 going into the final round. Even in fourth place, the man they call ‘Beef’ is still six off leaders Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson. It will be a tall order for him to be crowned Champion Golfer of the Year on Sunday.

Lee Westwood, who ended the day tied for 43rd, offered the simplest of answers when asked if he could put his finger on the lack of a British challenge: “No.” He offered the same answer when asked if he even cares. Luke Donald, also T43, pulled out the go-to “luck of the draw” line.

Justin Rose was a touch more philosophical. “Troon is a venue that the Americans seem to do well on,” he said with a hint of surrender after a 1-under 70 on Saturday left him 2-over for the tournament and nowhere near threatening the lead.

He’s putting it lightly, of course, as Americans have emerged victorious in the past six editions of golf’s oldest major held on this course, and in the modern game, golfers have the skills to thrive in any environment.

“Most of the guys that play professional golf now have all the shots,” Rose added. “Gone are the days that guys didn’t travel and guys didn’t know how to play in the wind.

“For example, guys who grow up in Texas grow up in a lot of wind. They can control their ball and flight it any which way they want. I think a lot of the Americans relish the challenge of links golf now. So I don’t see it as a particular advantage.

“Gone are your amateur days where you’d play in conditions like yesterday much more frequently. The conditions we face, I would say I play them as infrequently as the Americans do. So I would say now, almost 20 years into [my] career, the advantage of growing up on links golf has almost diminished.”

Rose came to Troon with hopes of claiming his second major title after lifting the U.S. Open in 2013, but the 35-year-old failed to make the most of benign conditions on Thursday before the wind and rain set in the past two days.

His 1-under round of 70 on Saturday was a vast improvement on Friday’s 77, in which he failed to record a single birdie in the stormy conditions, and he admitted his regret at failing to play more strategic golf.

“I felt confident coming out today that I could put a good round together,” Rose said. “I came out with a more aggressive mind-set, hitting drivers off the tee and changing up the game plan a little bit.

“I really felt like I needed to shoot something in the mid-60s today to have a shot going into tomorrow. All week I’ve felt like I’ve played really well without much reward. It’s just been one of those weeks where I felt like there’s been a little untimely mistake, and yesterday’s conditions were a little tricky to play in.

But Rose, whose two-month run prior to The Open was restricted to just a handful of rounds due to a back injury, admitted he is just happy to be back playing ahead of what is a packed summer — he heads to the Baltusrol Golf Club for the PGA Championship before immediately flying to Brazil for the Olympic Games.

“This whole week I feel like I’m back to playing some of my best golf,” he added. “It may not reflect it in the score, but since The Players Championship [in May], where the back went on me, it’s been a lot of hard work to get to here.

“This is the first week I’ve felt healthy, so that’s the exciting thing for me. I’m playing well and looking forward to the rest of the summer. I want to enter tomorrow with some positive momentum.”

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