Golf: Welsh fillip as Price rises

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The Independent Online
THE breeze blew stronger here yesterday and, as the wind got up in the Sintra mountains, many of the competitors found the third round of the Portuguese Open hard going.

'The par should be 77,' Ronan Rafferty said after a 73, which was in fact two over par. David Gilford, who scored 69, was the only golfer to break 70 and he testified to the difficulty of the conditions. 'I was never sure where the wind was blowing from,' he said. The lowest round on Thursday was 64 and on Friday 66. Philip Price, of Wales, who produced that 64, still leads the tournament with a round to play. His maiden tour victory, and the pounds 50,000 it brings, would help him considerably towards buying the house in Pontypridd that he has set his heart on. Price is on 206, seven under par, and he leads by two shots from South Africa's Retief Goosen. Three behind Price are Gilford, Paul Eales - who won the Extremadura Open last month - and the 48-year-old Brian Barnes. Rafferty is one shot further back.

Barnes, awaiting eligibility for the senior tour next year, has not won since 1981 and last month he three-putted seven times in the final round to let Gilford win in Tenerife. But yesterday he stayed in contention with a gutsy 73. It was also a lucky 73. At the 16th, a brute of an uphill par four that extracted a seven from Carl Mason, Barnes pulled his two-iron second shot towards oblivion. His ball hit a spectator, who was rewarded with four golf balls for his pains. Barnes's reward was to secure his par four. 'Tomorrow, I'll just have to go out and see what happens,' he said pragmatically.

Price's round was less eventful. He made par on the first 11 holes, elongating his run to 25 in a row, before he birdied the long 12th. His rhythm thus interrupted, he made bogeys at the 14th and 16th before taking a birdie at the last for a 71.

This new course, just outside Lisbon, meanders over tumbling terrain and resembles an extravagantly verdant roller-coaster. There are several vertigo-inducing tees and, to some extent or other, 10 holes require an approach to a raised green. Still, all the players consider it an excellent test.

Gilford coped with it better than anybody. He has won five tournaments in the past three seasons, including this one last year. His soft voice and unassuming demeanour belie a competitive temperament, and he says he is especially motivated when defending a title. This week he is more fired up than usual - not that you would notice it - as his appeal against a pounds 250 fine levied because he failed to defend his Moroccan Open title last month has been rejected.

'I would love to have played,' he said, 'but I think that being stuck in Madeira for two days was a pretty good excuse.' The island's airport was closed after the tournament there - coincidentally because of high winds - so Gilford withdrew from the Morocco tournament. He also resents learning of his rebuff from a committee member on the flight out here in earshot of other players.

'It's supposed to be a confidential matter,' Gilford said. 'I will be appealing to the board. It's not the money, it's the principle.'

This week, the big names - Faldo, Langer, Ballesteros, Lyle, Woosnam, Montgomerie, and Olazabal - are away. It is a chance for lesser players to make their mark, and Gilford would shoot to the top of the Order of Merit if he were to win this afternoon. But Price, another quiet, rather than charismatic individual, may have something to say about that.