Couples seeks Orchard windfall : Golf

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The Independent Online
They spent six months scouring Asia in search of a suitable venue for the Johnnie Walker Classic, and it is just possible the Orchard Golf and Country Club got the vote, not because they paid the sponsors $800,000, not because the course was desig ned byArnold Palmer, not because it has a clubhouse a third of a mile long, not even because they sell a lot of scotch in the Philippines, but because it has a helipad.

Manila is crawling with a magnificent form of transport known as the Jeepney, but the city is choked with traffic and it simply wouldn't do to have the world's leading players spending half the morning staring up the rear end of an elongated jeep.

Hence the helipad. The chosen few, such as Fred Couples, Nick Price, Colin Montgomerie and Greg Norman, are flown to and from the course in helicopters. The players who are paid to play enjoy a journey of eight minutes; the others sweat it out on buses for up to an hour.

In fairness, those with their feet on the ground are given a police escort with sirens blaring, clearing a path - often on the wrong side of the road - through the traffic. It is possible that the helicoptered player has a distinct advantage over those with a bus pass. What is indisputable is that the high-fliers are spared the depressing sight of abject poverty on the outskirts of the city.

The highest flier yesterday in the third round was Fred Couples, who moved from five under par to 10 under following a second successive 67. The leaderboard bears strong resemblance to last week's Desert Classic. Couples won in Dubai from Montgomerie, and Michael Campbell and Price were joint third.

Today, Couples takes a two-stroke lead into the final round. The American is at 10 under par, Campbell at eight, and Price, Montgomerie and Robert Allenby at seven under. Although monty and Allenby are well-placed, it is Campbell who is having the time of his life.

Yesterday, he had the round of the day - a 66 that included eight birdies. "I'm playing frightening stuff," Campbell said. "I don't have a clue why things are going right."

A 25-year-old Maori from Wellington - Sir Logan Campbell, who left Edinburgh in 1864 and became mayor of Auckland, is Michael's great-great-great grandfather - he turned professional in 1993, and gained his card on the European Tour by finishing third onthe Challenge Tour last season. He has played in two events this year, the New Zealand Open and the Desert Classic, and finished third in both.

Couples, who will partner Campbell and Montgomerie today, went to the turn in 31 but struggled back in 36. "I was lucky to shoot what I shot," he said. One female spectator might not agree. At the 14th, a wayward drive from Couples struck her on the headand she was taken to hospital, but not seriously hurt. Couples, with a six, was.

Montgomerie went out in 36 and came back in 32, as did Allenby. Monty was breathing down Couples's neck until he took a bogey six at the last. At the 17th, he sunk a putt of around 50 feet which provided him with his fifth birdie in eight holes.

Campbell, meanwhile, was fingering a whalebone charm around his neck. "It's a symbol of support when I'm away from home," he said. "A good-luck charm." It seems to be working. Today, he will exchange his bus ticket for a helicopter ride.