Golf: Park in a late drive for the line

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DAVID PARK'S dream month shows no sign of slowing down. The 25- year-old the Welshman played alongside Lee Westwood in the third round of the Standard Life tournament here yesterday and showed he is well up to the standard required of life on tour.

Westwood, the defending champion, did not drop a shot in his 67. At 12 under par he was out in front again and intent on repeating his victory of a year ago. Until the last, Park kept the Worksop man company and his 68 left him at 11 under par, alongside Thomas Bjorn and Mats Lanner.

With blazing sunshine on the bonnie banks, conditions were perfect and Bjorn and Lanner both scored rounds of 66, five under par. Sergio Garcia was unable to capitalise on a start of three birdies in a row and fell out of the running but Jesper Parnevik remained firmly in contention.

It was not long ago that Park was sharing hotel rooms and hire cars with fellow hopefuls on the Challenge Tour. The former Walker Cup player spent a year and a half on the circuit where the expenses are the same as the main tour but the rewards considerably less.

He used his time well. Given the chance of playing in the Moroccan Open on the full circuit, in a week when more established players were at the US Open or resting, Park battled his way into a play-off with Miguel Angel Martin and only lost at the sixth extra hole.

His high finish, however, earned him a place in the European Grand Prix the following week and a victory there, achieved in his usual calm and collected manner, gave him a two-year exemption on the European Tour.

It was only to be expected that he would come down to earth at some point and that appeared to be the case when he dropped seven shots on the back nine on the last day of the Irish Open. While Sergio Garcia was hogging the spotlight there and early on at Loch Lomond, Park was able to regroup, visit his coach and gradually work his way up the leaderboard.

Switching to cack-handed putting, with his left hand below right, has boosted Nick Faldo's confidence prior to the Open at Carnoustie. He has been practising in the new style in his hotel room with a mystery procedure involving a desk.

"I switched on the second day of the US Open," Faldo said, "and have been practising that way for the last couple of weeks. My putting has been improved by six shots and my short game is helping me to keep the momentum going."

Faldo had a 68 yesterday to move to the fringes of contention at seven under. One of his four birdies came with a five-iron to two feet at the 10th and he used the same club to reach the green from a fairway bunker at the last.

"There are some really good signs and it is nice to have a week where I can test everything under pressure rather than being down at the bottom," Faldo said.

As for Carnoustie, the three-time Open winner said: "It's as tough as we've got in Europe. It's going to be a magnificent test by the sounds of it."

Too tough, maybe, for some. Fred Couples has been the latest American to withdraw from the Open. The former Masters champion missed the cut at the US Open and has a back problem that has limited his overseas travel. But the American has won almost $600,000 (pounds 377,000) this season with five top 10 finishes and is still 13th on the US Ryder Cup standings.

Jack Nicklaus is still recovering from his hip replacement surgery, Steve Jones, the 1996 US Open champion, is also injured while Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw and the 1995 Open champion John Daly, who indicated he would not return after going home from Ireland last week, are struggling for consistent form.

"I don't think any of these withdrawals are unexpected," said Duncan Weir, the assistant championship secretary of the Royal and Ancient. "More have withdrawn in the past but we will still have a good championship.

"We had no notice from Tom Kite but Ben Crenshaw said he did not want to take a spot away from a young player and we thanked him for his past efforts at the Open. Couples cited lack of form as well but we believe Jones has an injury."