Golf: The 121st Open: Kite and Woosnam's woe: Guy Hodgson reports on a frustrating afternoon for two would-be contenders

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A LITTLE over a year ago a meeting of Tom Kite and Ian Woosnam on a golf course would provoke a standard reaction. Mouths would hide behind hands and the muttering would begin: 'They're great players, but they'll never win a Major.' So much for perceived wisdom.

Fifteen months on and the mantle of 'the finest golfer never to . . .' has passed to Jose-Maria Olazabal. Woosnam has his Major, the 1991 Masters, and Kite is still glowing in the aftermath of his US Open victory at Pebble Beach four weeks ago. With it the pretence that it did not matter has been dropped.

Kite's standard answer to why he had not won one of the game's great prizes was that of indifference. He had won everything else, had nearly dollars 8m ( pounds 4.1m) in career earnings and would be remembered as a great golfer anyway. Woosnam was more forthright. 'I don't care about winning a Major,' he said. Both, having sipped from the cup of success, have learned the error of their ways.

'I would be lying if I told you that coming here as US Open champion made no difference,' Kite said. 'It makes things a lot better.' Woosnam need say nothing, the frustration of his early career cast off with his win at Augusta. He has his playing problems, but they are set against his certain place in the history books.

Yesterday they continued their pursuit of the 121st Open Championship knowing it would need lapses from the runaway leader Nick Faldo as well as their own inspiration. Woosnam began his round four under par, eight shots adrift. Kite was on three under and it was the Welshman who raced off with the claret jug solid in his eyes.

Kite has that industrious, bespectacled appearance that reminds you of the school swot; Woosnam is more the little kid with the angelic face who gives the teacher hell. But he tried to be good yesterday. Oh, how he tried.

At the first he found a greenside bunker but played his recovery with such delicate expertise that the ball halted barely two feet from the hole. It was a magnificent stroke and fully lived up to his boast that he is a very good player from the sand. He would be eating those words later.

At the next, Woosnam, with a new putter and driver to remedy creaks he had diagnosed in his second-round play, used the former to collect a birdie from 10 feet, and when he chipped to four feet at the par-three fourth the prey was coming into range. The Welshman was six under and was charging. Now if Faldo, who was on the first tee, could let a few strokes slip . . .

Instead it was Woosnam who disintegrated, and it wasn't difficult to pinpoint when the momentum was lost. The par-five fifth, its 559 yards neutered by the fierce downhill wind, was a birdie chance, and it was within his grasp as his approach arced towards the flag. 'Oh no,' he shouted. 'No. Don't go in. Don't go in.' The ball had rolled with sadistic slowness into the bunker.

A five there should not have been too much of a setback, but its effects seemed to linger. Two trips into the sand and a fluffed chip from the trap at the sixth resulted in a double bogey, and when Woosnam over-hit another recovery from a greenside bunker at the par-three seventh and went 30 yards past the flag he acquired the air of a man past caring. Another double bogey.

By now the springy, defiant step had been battered into a weary trudge, and when he also bogeyed the eighth after falling short of the green with his approach he could not have looked more fed up if he had donned the down-turned lips of a clown.

'I hit three bad shots,' he said, 'and was heavily penalised for it.' Even three birdies on the inward half which lifted his score to a one- under-par 70 did not do much for his spirits. 'I've no chance. I'm playing well but I've not holed a significant putt from 15 feet or further all week. Five under is just about the worst score I could be.'

Kite, meanwhile, had also fallen short of putting Faldo under pressure, scoring a level-par 71 that was without the spectacular ups and downs of his partner. The American had struggled to find his rhythm early on Friday and it was a similar story yesterday.

At the fifth he found a bunker, chipped out desperately short of the flag and then two-putted for a bogey four. At the seventh he also dropped a shot, three-putting from just off the green. Again three birdies on the last nine repaired the damage, but it was shoring up a round, not gilding it.

As the pair had headed up the 11th fairway, the leaderboard had changed. Faldo's 12 under became became 13 under. A voice from the crowd said: 'Come on John, it's no use following these two. Let's see what Gordon Brand's doing.'

He did not say it and he certainly had not muttered, but the thought was there. 'They're great players but they will never win this Major.'