Golf: The Open - Van de Velde's par excellence

The Open: Inspired Frenchman turns on the putting style to take a five-shot lead into the final day
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The Independent Online
SO THE Frenchman's dream lives on for another day. If there is a place it is likely to be shattered it is on this fearsome Carnoustie course on the final day of The 128th Open Championship. A five-stroke lead is a sizeable buffer for Jean Van de Velde with 18 holes to play but will it be enough?

Van de Velde would become the first player from across the English Channel to win the Open since Arnaud Massy in 1907. Even Massy had a better record in the championship prior to his victory, with top-10 finishes in each of his previous three visits.

Van de Velde has twice missed the cut and not finished better than 34th on the two occasions he has survived to the weekend. He had to qualify, taking the honours at Monifieth, as did Ben Hogan when he won here in 1953, but since exemptions for the leading players were introduced, no qualifier has gone on to win. With a short game like that of his hero Seve Ballesteros and the inspired putter he wielded yesterday, Van de Velde could make history. The quality of the field ranged up against him, however, is still formidable.

Following up his 68 on Friday, Van de Velde was again under par with a 70 to finish at level par. The big move of the third round came from Craig Parry, who moved up from 30th place to five over par with a 67. Sharing second place is Justin Leonard, the 1997 champion at Royal Troon, who had a 71.

Van de Velde has won only once on the European Tour, at the Roma Masters in 1993, but he avoided the backwards plunges of two other players inexperienced at the highest level, Angel Cabrera and Patrik Sjoland, but also of such leading stars as Tiger Woods, Greg Norman and Jesper Parnevik.

The Swede scored a 78, the Australian a 75. Woods, the world No 1 and the tournament favourite, bettered his playing partner Norman by one and despite his 74 lies in joint fourth with David Frost and Andrew Coltart, who had a 72. "When the weather is so bad and you see other guys getting upset," said Coltart, "you probably relax more. Jean is maybe like me, sometimes a bit fierce on himself in normal conditions."

While the wind gusted strongly in the morning and early afternoon, it calmed later on. Still, Woods did not make a birdie. The world No 1 was sticking to his plan of avoiding any big numbers when he had his first double bogey of the championship at the 53rd hole. Woods paid the penalty for missing the fairway when he was still short of the green in two and saw an attempted "flop" shot roll through the green.

The American took three to get down from the back and now lies seven behind. "Anyone who has a lead like that has to sleep on it," Woods said. "When I won the Masters in 1997 it wasn't an easy night's sleep and that was a nine-stroke lead."

"I know better players have had more commanding leads and lost," Van de Velde admitted. "First, I must beat myself." He is 40th on the order of merit and 26th on the Ryder Cup standings and could shoot up both. "Maybe it is about time for a second win," he said.

In the committee room of the European Tour, Van de Velde has stood up to the strongest opponents. He can make a point with a touch of class. Once he organised a friend to phone him on a mobile during a meeting when Ken Schofield, the executive director of the Tour, was in full flow. "Now you know what we feel like on the course when they go off," said the Frenchman.

He saw off the many bunkers he visited with similar style but it was his putting which was thrilling. He holed from 25 feet at the seventh to go into a four-stroke lead. Length-wise, the best moment came at the 14th, where he holed from 70 feet. But the piece de resistance was his 45-foot putt at the last and the arm punching that went with it. "How many times in the lifetime of a golfer will you tee off last in the Open leading by five? Not often, so I am going to enjoy it, even if I shoot 90. My IQ is a little bit over 10 I think, so I am definitely going to be thinking about it. This is the biggest tournament and maybe one of the smallest players is going to win. That would be fantastic."

Parry finished fourth in the 1995 Scottish Open at Carnoustie and was looking forward to coming back. "That ranks with the best rounds I've played," he said. "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." Parry 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." He 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, 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."

After his first round of 74, Colin Montgomerie said he would take three more such rounds. As Woods said, anyone at 10 over or better has a chance.

Monty therefore still has a chance of joining Tommy Armour in 1931 as a Scottish-born winner of the Open at Carnoustie, with a 72 to be nine over. "I said to the carryboard man that I wanted him to keep it in single figures and he did, just," Monty said.

"All I wanted to do yesterday was to deflect the attention," he added. "It worked for 14 holes." The Scot got a huge cheer when he chipped in at the ninth to go to the turn in level par. He then birdied the 11th and 14th before immediately dropping three shots in a row.

Whether Monty, or his fellow Scot, Coltart, has a chance today will largely depend on the leader. "Jean Van de Velde is a very fine player but we will find out a lot about him tomorrow," Montgomerie said. "It won't be about golf or swing technique, but about his head."