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Donald and Westy falter as Americans take charge

ESPN staff
August 13, 2011 « What They Said | Chartbeat test »
The belly putter has served Brendan Steele superbly this week © Getty Images
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Luke Donald and Lee Westwood paid the price for some uncharacteristic lapses as the Americans tightened their grip on the US PGA Championship.

Donald and Westwood both put themselves into contention only to throw shots away to par, leaving the path clear for Brendan Steele, Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley to end the US drought at majors, which stretches back to Phil Mickelson's win at the Masters in 2010.

Putting has been Westwood's Achilles heel for a couple of years and for as good as he strikes the ball, his failure with the short stick will always hamper him and it was a similar story at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Birdies at five and ten moved Westwood up to three-under and in a position to strike. Some pure iron play handed him opportunities at 11 and 12, but he left two putts from inside eight feet above ground. It could have been that his shortcomings on the greens were playing on his mind as a poor drive on 14 resulted in a double-bogey - although it would have been a bogey but for another missed putt from a makeable distance.

Westwood played the savage final four holes in level par, but it could have been better as he had birdie opportunities but failed to convert any of them and it resulted in a level-par 70.

The brutal closing holes on the Highlands Course cost world No. 1 Donald dear on the third day. Donald is still hunting his first major and after a bogey on the second, he surged through the field to four-under. A brilliant tee shot on the monster par-three 15th was squandered as he missed the birdie putt on the low side and from that point his round unravelled.

An errant approach on 16 cost him a shot and after narrowly avoiding water on 17 and scrambling a par, he had an aberration on 18. A wild tee shot found the sand, leaving him with no option but to lay up. Donald left himself the ideal yardage for a nine iron, but he inexplicably pushed the ball right and into the water. He was able to get up and down for a double bogey, but it resulted in a 68 to leave him at one-under after three rounds.

The US PGA has a habit of throwing up surprise winners - Jeff Sluman in the 1980s, John Daly and Mark Brooks in the 1990s and Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel and YE Yang in the current millennium. And with the big names wilting coming home, the route has seemingly been left open for a relatively unheralded player to grasp the Wannamaker Trophy.

Rory McIlroy shows his frustration after missing a putt © Getty Images
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Steele and Dufner sit one shot ahead of the chasing pack after moving up to seven-under after 54 holes.

Steele showed real quality on Saturday, recording a four-under 66. It was a fine effort from Steele who showed the strength of character to recover from a double-bogey at the seventh as he bids to taste glory in his first appearance in a major.

Dufner began the day in the final group, but his demeanour suggested different as he ambled round the course seemingly without a care in the world. His driving was solid, iron play excellent and he proved a score can be made on the final four holes. After surrendering shots on 12 and 14, he rolled in fantastic birdie putts on 15 and 16 and shaved the cup for another on 17.

Keegan Bradley is a shot further adrift, having bounced back from a double-bogey on the first to sign for a 69.

Like Donald, Phil Mickelson paid the price for errors coming home. The fans' favourite went on a run of birdies either side of the turn to get to two-under for the tournament, but a poor tee shot on 15 cost him a shot and he inexplicably left a two-foot putt on the high side on 18 to drop down to even-par for the tournament.

Steve Stricker's form has dipped since his blistering 63 on Thursday, but he is hanging on and a brilliant up and down from 130 yards on the 18th helped him post a one-under 69 to sit at four-under and his ability to close out tournaments will stand him in good stead over the final 18 holes. Sat one shot ahead of Stricker at five-under is another veteran, Scott Verplank who birdied 16 and 17 in a round of 69.

David Toms knows what it takes to win at Atlanta Athletic Club, having won the US PGA Championship a decade ago, and he made a surge on moving day. His charge started with an eagle on 12 courtesy of a long putt and he holed from the sand on 14. The 18th was where he nailed a clutch par putt 10 years ago to deny Phil Mickelson and he went one better on Saturday, stroking home a putt up the hill for a 65 and a two-under total.

Masters champion Charl Schwartzel produced some indifferent play on the first two days, but was much more in tune with his game on Saturday as a fabulous bogey-free 66 moved him up to two-under.

Rickie Fowler made a surge up the leadboard with a run of three birdies in his first five holes, but his chance was frittered away on the eighth when he hit a triple-bogey seven. He got back on track with an eagle on 12 but a second triple bogey on 18 send him spinning down to eight-over.

Rory McIlroy is a shot better than Fowler, after strugging with his wrist once again in his round of 74. But it was also a day of woe on the green for the US Open winner who needed 33 swings of the short stick.

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