Golf: Faldo chased by the shooting stars: The Open Championship / Pavin, Norman and Langer pursue the defending champion as Grady relishes the chance to shine

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The Independent Online
THE CREAM has risen to the top in this Open Championship. The big cats of the contemporary professional game are licking their lips and grinning like they have just acquired a dairy, or even the whole of Cheshire.

Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Nick Price, Greg Norman and Fred Couples, respectively the top five players in the world rankings, are all in the top 10 and within four shots of the lead going into today's final round at Royal St Georges. The leaderboard has seen more stars than the premiere of Sunset Boulevard.

Faldo shares the lead with Corey Pavin. They are on 202, eight under par, and they lead by one shot from Norman and Langer. Price is on five under par, level with Peter Senior, while Couples is a shot further back, tied with Ernie Els and Wayne Grady. It has been a good week for the old Commonwealth. This afternoon, Pavin, Norman and Els will each attempt to do what no one has done before - break 70 in all four rounds of the Open.

'I feel good about my chances. I wish we could play right now,' Norman said. Asked if Faldo was the main threat, he replied: 'Not necessarily.'

Faldo agreed. 'You've got a lot of good names up there. I've got a few things to sort out before I'm ready. I'm just going to go out and really concentrate on what I'm doing. You can't go out and play those other guys. Hopefully I can draw on my experience. Maybe they will see my name on the leaderboard and it will divert their attention from what they are doing.'

Victory for Faldo would make him the first Briton to retain the title since James Braid in 1906. A fourth Open triumph in seven years would take his tally of major championships to six, one more than Seve Ballesteros, thereby re- emphasising his claim to be recognised as the best European golfer since Harry Vardon. One other target beckons. A round of 67 or better today could make him only the third man to finish below 270 in a major championship. Tom Watson shot 268 to beat Jack Nicklaus by a shot in the 1977 Open at Turnberry.

Langer, who has been second and third in the last two Opens here, is seeking his second major of the season following his win at the Masters in April. But he is cautious. 'Anyone within four or five shots is in with a chance.'

Price, narrowly deprived of victory in the Open in 1982 and 1988, is the reigning US PGA champion and so he too would hold two majors simultaneously if he were to prevail this afternoon. 'I think I'm in the position that if the wind blows a little stronger, I might have a chance,' Price said.

At this championship last year, Couples left without his wife, soon to be divorced. He would like to leave this year with the claret jug, but it will be difficult. 'I'm going to need to shoot four or five under,' he said.

But no one could want this more than Norman. He came into the press centre after his 66 on Thursday to find that his three immediate predecessors in their had been Larry Mize, Faldo and Mark Calcavecchia, three men who have devastatingly thwarted him in major championships. We wondered where Bob Tway was. Hard-luck runners-up finishes have been Greg's speciality. He's had more seconds than Billy Bunter.

Despite the glittering presence of these stars, do not discount Pavin. They certainly have not. 'He's one of the smartest players in the game,' Price said. 'He's the fiercest competitor I've ever played against. He's a great tactician. He has the ability to hit a huge number of shots.' Yesterday, his ability meant he only had to hit 68 shots.

'I feel that in the two previous majors this year I've had chances to win but made a few mistakes,' Pavin said. 'I feel I've learned from that. My game's matured enough now for me to win.'

It was an interesting rather than pulsating afternoon, but it got off to a furious start. Price indicated his intention to be taken seriously by making birdies at the first two holes. Norman then hit his approach shot to 10 feet at the first and holed the putt, which took him to seven under par: level with Langer and just a stroke behind Faldo before the last pair had had the opportunity to reply.

They did not waste much time once they got the chance to respond. They both pitched superbly to the second and holed putts of about six feet for threes. But Faldo fell back into a tie with Langer and Pavin when he bogeyed the fourth after a wild drive into deepest Kent. Pavin had previously birdied the same hole with a preposterous curling putt of 50 feet to add to the birdie he had already made at the second.

And then suddenly, as the breeze freshened, the action quietened. From that point, Faldo and Pavin parred every hole until Pavin bogeyed the 15th. Indeed, Faldo parred every other hole period. Norman likewise maintained par progress until he birdied the 11th to join those two on eight under par, and in the lead. Langer had been playing with comparatively reckless abandon, missing a six footer for par on the sixth, making a birdie at the long seventh but then suffering a double- bogey at the eighth where he had to declare an unplayable lie after knocking his second shot into a lonely clump of foliage. The ball in his hand meant it was two shots dropped in the bush.

Langer eventually climbed back to seven under par courtesy of a birdie at the 16th. Norman dropped to that mark after bogeying the 15th, while Pavin became leader with Faldo after rolling in a 30 footer for a two at the 16th.

It is likely that one of the six principals will come to the last hole today with victory in his grasp. Let us hope for his sake, given the severity of St George's 18th hole, that he doesn't have to par it to win.

(Photograph omitted)