Golf: The Open - Smooth Parry rides the rough

The Open: `Popeye' on a voyage of discovery as he delivers the sorcery after long apprenticeship
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The Independent Online
THEY ARE a proud lot, the citizens of Carnoustie. Willie Milne, the pro at the new Carnoustie Golf Hotel, was given just 40 minutes notice for the job as marker for Martyn Thompson in the third round of the 128th Open Championship. Thompson, a club pro himself who had battled through the opening two rounds, scored a 78. Milne had a 76, albeit without the pressure of actually competing in the championship. "I don't know what they are all complaining about," Milne said. "It wasn't that difficult."

The sound of complaints from the players was much reduced yesterday, not by the wind, which gusted to its strongest all week, but by the fact that only 73 of them from the original line up of 156 made the cut. The qualifying total was 12 over par in the most attritional Open since Gary Player won here in 1968.

On Friday there may only have been seven scores under par but that was seven more than the number achieved on the first day. Jean Van de Velde's 68 gave him the halfway lead at one over, with Angel Cabrera, Jesper Parnevik, Tiger Woods and Greg Norman lining up behind the Frenchman.

Yesterday Frank Nobilo managed a 70 to move from 10 over to nine over before Craig Parry, the Australian whose only top-10 finish in The Open came at Royal Birkdale in 1991, beat Van de Velde's lowest score of the week with a 67. Parry started the day in 30th place at nine over but shot up the leaderboard by completing his 54 holes in five over.

"That ranks with the best rounds I've played," said Parry, who finished fourth in the 1995 Scottish Open at Carnoustie. "I was really looking forward to coming back here. You've got to learn links golf and I love bouncing the ball into the aprons of these greens. I've had a long apprenticeship at links golf. A lot of guys have been complaining but someone is going to walk away with the trophy tomorrow."

John Philp would approve of the Australian's words. Much of the controversy this week has centred on the set up of the course and whether fertiliser was used to produce such lush rough. But in an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Philp, the links superintendent, denied the charge. "I haven't used fertiliser here for five years," Philp said.

If the players have had enough of Philp's rough, they will find no comfort in the rough side of his tongue. "My aim," Philp explained, "was to create a course for the millennium to set a new standard. The players haven't got the game for it. David Duval said the only variation to his game was to hit the ball a little lower, what sort of crap is that? There are lots of subtleties involved. You have to think about it. This is the true form of the game.

"The players are all geared up for hitting balls perfect distances but you can tear up the yardage book here. They thought they would come here and rip the guts out of it. Who the hell do they think they are? This is very special. This is serious. The winner gets pounds 350,000 and they shouldn't get the money for nothing. There is so much money in the game I think they have lost touch with reality."

That could never be said about Parry. The 32-year-old is a true Australian battler and took his misfortunes over the opening two rounds, when he scored 76 and 75 playing alongside Woods, in good humour. Having made his first cut in The Open for five years, Parry breakfasted on pancakes rather than the spinach that is suggested by his nickname of "Popeye".

It was only after he finished his round that Parry heard of his countrymen's victory against South Africa in the morning's Tri-Nations Series rugby union international in Brisbane. He went to the turn in 33, holing a 35- footer from off the front of the fourth green for his second birdie. "That got me going," he said. "I may be only 5ft 6in but I felt 6ft tall."

Parry holed from 15 feet at the 10th, only to drop his first shot at the next. But he got up and down for a birdie at the par five 14th and hit "as good a shot as I've hit for a long time" with a five-iron to 12 feet at the 250-yard 16th hole. He tangled with the rough at the 17th to bogey the hole but had put himself in contention for a major for the first time since the 1992 US Masters. The third-round leader then, Parry slumped to a 78 on the final day to lose by five to Fred Couples.

"That Masters was a long time ago," Parry said. "I was young and didn't know what was going to happen on the last day. Hopefully I can finish off the job this time."

Nobilo was "ecstatic" about his 70. "I don't know how many times I'll play this course but at least once in my career I managed to break par on this monster," said the New Zealander. "I had a two-putt return putt on the last and - I mean it was a wicked thing to think of - I thought I might never get another chance to break par here again."

The 39-year-old thought he might have to give up the game when he was diagnosed as having inflammatory arthritis in both wrists and elbows. He was then put on a course of steroid and immune drugs which "just flattened my system". Then, after last year's Open, he was struck by a golf ball just above his left eye, a wound that required 30 stitches. "This is a great tonic," Nobilo said.

Before his third round, Colin Montgomerie claimed that his remarks about being out of the championship were "just to deflect attention". "I believe anything in single digits over par can win," said the Scot.

Montgomerie managed to stay within that range with a 72 that took him to a total of nine over par. Having gone to the turn in 36, the European No 1 got to two under for the day with birdies at the 11th and 14th before immediately dropping three shots in a row.

Chasing a dream of becoming the first French winner of The Open since Arnaud Massy in 1907, Van de Velde went to the turn level par to extend his lead to four strokes. After three holes he was one over for the day, but a long birdie putt at the seventh brought him back to one over. Everyone else was going backwards rapidly.

Woods and Norman, playing together, both shared outward nines of 37, while the two Swedes - Patrik Sjoland and Parnevik - had 38s and Cabrera a 40 after a double bogey at the fearsome sixth.

Sjoland had briefly shared the lead at two over when he chipped in at the third for his second birdie of the day, but then had three bogeys in a row from the seventh. Justin Leonard, the 1997 champion, went to the turn in 34 before dropping two shots in three holes to fall back to five over.