TURNBERRY, SCOTLAND — Of all the factors that might abet or foil performance at the everlasting mystery known as golf, one of the oddest will get another test today when a husband tries to win a major tournament while his wife sort of hopes to refrain from going into labor.
Like the fast-rising Phil Mickelson contending in the U.S. Open in 1999, the fast-rising Englishman Ross Fisher will contend for the British Open in 2009 knowing he might walk off Turnberry's Ailsa Course any minute if a text message conveys that his wife, Jo, has gone to deliver their first child down in England.
"Like I said all along, if Jo goes into labor, I'll be supporting her a hundred percent," Fisher said. "And I won't be here, I'll be with her, because it's something that I definitely don't want to miss. You know, it will be a shame, but I guess we'll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it, you know."
As radio pundits Saturday discussed whether such an overriding concern might help a player at something as generally nerve-racking as a British Open, Fisher held together a 70 that sent him into a tie for second place at three-under-par 207, one behind leader Tom Watson.
This sustains an upward trajectory in which the 28-year-old Fisher finished fifth in the U.S. Open, one place ahead of Tiger Woods, in only his sixth major. In his seventh, his possibilities include going even higher and withdrawing suddenly.
"It's been an intriguing week, obviously for a number of reasons, you know," he said. "I've got through three days. She's got through three days. Hopefully, I can hang on for one more day, and hopefully she can. Who knows, to win, and then to get back home and to see the birth of our first child would be obviously a dream come true."
Man of the week
Some Watson facts:
* Majestically on a hill above the course sits the 103-year-old Turnberry Hotel, which does include a suite named for Watson in which Watson happens to be staying, with roomie Vijay Singh. "That's correct," Watson said. "Vijay is in the big part of the suite. I'm in the small room."
* From there, he certainly soaked up the late tee time rare for him in majors anymore. "That's the great benefit of teeing off at 3, you can see a lot of golf, see what people are doing," Watson said. "They ought to make it illegal."
* His hip replacement occurred last Oct. 2, and he hit no golf balls until December, when he whacked "200 drivers as hard as I could, and I said, 'Yeahhhh, it feels good!' "
Imagine you'd never played a links course in your 29-year life, then your first one becomes a British Open at Turnberry alongside Tom Watson in the last pairing of the third round. Steve Marino just lived that, and the Virginian fashioned a 76 with two double bogeys and one triple bogey yet somehow came off as impressive.
Bogeying No. 2 through No. 4 and then double-bogeying No. 5 on Saturday, Marino looked all set to vanish, but he eagled No. 7 and birdied No. 11 and cobbled it back together until his tee shot on the par-three 15th went into Mother Nature's shrubbery and led to a six, then he lipped out a bogey putt on No. 16.
"It's amazing how fast you can let a pretty good round get away from you. . . . I was going along so well and all of a sudden it was like, Bam! Next thing you know I was like eight-over for the round," he said.
Yet he still made two closing birdies and trails Watson by five.
This isn't cricket
Not often does a guy from Tasmania who has played eight previous majors, missed six of the cuts and never finished higher than 36th almost top a major leaderboard on Sunday morning. But there's Mathew Goggin, 35, from that Australian state, his last win on the Nationwide Tour, one shot behind Watson partly because his putting has improved after "years of hard work."
As a lad, he might have opted for cricket, he said, but, "I was a bit scared of the ball, actually. I didn't like it. I didn't like it whizzing up around my ears, so I tended to back away and slash over a point, which wasn't a good thing to do in the high grades of cricket."
Two is enough
It grew clear that two-time defending champion Padraig Harrington wouldn't become the first player since the Australian Peter Thomson in 1954-56 to win three straight Opens when, after beginning the day eight shots off the lead, he shot 76 to fall 13 shots off the lead.
"You know, professional golf," Harrington said wistfully.
Here's another Sunday and at least two more chances for this fine, thick wave of 21st-century British players to break a British drought in majors that has stretched to 39 since Paul Lawrie won the 1999 Open that Jean Van de Velde lost.
In contention lurk the Englishmen Fisher and Lee Westwood, 28 and 36 years old and one and two shots back, respectively.
Fisher hasn't staged an intensive Sunday afternoon contention for a major just yet, and he said, "I'm not sure why a British guy hasn't won the Open. We've got a tremendous amount of talent in the game, you know."
Westwood did join Woods in the last pairing at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, shooting 73 and just missing a 15-foot putt that would have placed him in the playoff with Woods and Rocco Mediate. Asked if he finds himself ready to break the skein, he said, "Yeah, I think so."
John Daly held together a 72 in the blustery conditions and joined 12 other golfers at two over par.