Golf / 123rd Open: Rafferty has the taste for a vintage round: Peter Corrigan sees an Irishman revelling in a change of fortune

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The Independent Online
RONAN RAFFERTY has 3,000 bottles of claret in his wine collection. Yesterday he put down a sizeable deposit on the world's most famous old claret jug. The Northern Irishman's third-round 65 tied with Colin Montgomerie's as the best British score of the day, but he is four shots better than the Scotsman and leads the home challenge today.

Rafferty's countryman David Feherty returned 67 to be one stroke behind, while England's Mark James expanded British hopes with a 66 that puts him on five under. After 18 months in which he has struggled to find form, Rafferty's place near the top of the leader- board is as much a surprise to him as anyone else.

'I certainly didn't come here expecting to win,' he said. 'When I scored 66 on Friday my first thought was to be delighted at making the cut. Everything has been on my side.'

Rafferty, who is a serious wine collector but rarely drinks the stuff, will have sent different prayers heavenwards than Montgomerie, who is sorry for the Scottish fans. If they want to see a Scot win The Open at last they will need to be lashed by rain and bent double by the wind. Those are the only conditions under which he feels he can catch up with the leaders.

Montgomerie also acknowledged that the expectations of him in his homeland Ayrshire may have helped to hold him back during the first two rounds. He felt the tension and was pegged back by a back-nine 37 on Thursday. 'At one time I thought I was going to miss the cut but I managed to hang on. In effect, I am eight under for the last 21 holes so I am well in form if the weather presents me with a chance,' he said.

The Scot made his own chances yesterday with a sequence of superb finishing. He snatched birdies at the first and fourth with 20-foot putts. He sank one from 30 feet at the seventh and then rolled in 40 footers at the 16th and 18th. All this, plus a chip-in at the ninth kept his gallery happy under a generous sun.

As compensation he also contrived to miss a few short chances. On balance, however, 65 was about right. 'It is a little frustrating to find my form when it may be too late. I shall take the same approach tomorrow, although I will attack a bit more.'

If today turns out to Montgomerie's liking, however, it is not likely to help Rafferty and will automatically destroy the hopes of another Briton who has put himself in with an outside chance. Mark James hates the inclement weather. He put yesterday's 66 down to the fact that Turnberry became warmer than it was on the first two days.

'That's more my sort of weather,' said the undemonstrative James. He returned 72 on wet Thursday and did creditably with a 67 on chilly Friday. 'Yesterday it was an extremely hard 67. Today it was a fairly easy 66. Could have been less, could have been more.'

It is not easy to get more aggressive talk out of the dry northerner who has not been playing much this year, preferring to practise three hours a day. The format did not stop him advancing quietly to five under without collecting the usual birdie on the 17th. As for today? 'I'll just go and play.'

'Could you stand the hassle of being Open champion?' someone asked. 'Probably not,' he answered.

Shropshire's Jonathan Lomas recovered from a faltering first nine when he dropped four shots and returned 33 for the second nine which leaves him two under. The amateur Warren Bennett also reclaimed a late shot after dropping six, including a double-bogey on the 13th.