In a US Open which has been dominated by unprecedented forecasts, Ricky Barnes was last night being tipped to become the unlikeliest winner in major history today. Ranked 519th in the world, the American happens to be some 123 places lower than his compatriot Ben Curtis, when he stunned Planet Golf and beyond at Sandwich in 2003.
Of course, nothing could be taken for granted, particularly as this was only the third round and Barnes had began to wobble when striding into a commanding lead at Bethpage. After eight holes he was six clear of his nearest challenger, but by the time he had dropped two shots and signed for a 70 hewas only one ahead on eight-under.
Asthey set out to play the first holes of their final round last night, Barnes’s compatriot, Lucas Glover was heading the chase. But there were others in pursuit. Not least Ross Fisher.
The Englishman was five off the pace after a 69, but seeing as only Glover separated him from Barnes he was anything but out of it. Neither was David Duval, the 2001 Open champion, who shrugged off all those years spent in the golfing wilderness to stand on the same mark as Fisher. And then there was Phil Mickelson, on twounder after a 69 which produced the famous New York roar. He was the marquee name lurking should Barnes and Glover go into freefall.
Surely, though, Tiger Woods would not be a factor. The world No 1 was nine behind despite a gutsy 68 and while it is feasible that Barnes could blow up in the final stages, the number of competitors Woods would have to leapfrog was imposing. Nevertheless, there were a few glimpses of the Tiger magic in the third round, especially when chipping in on the 17th. But this event has the feel of a surprise winner about it. “Bizarre” has been the appropriate adjective.
Indeed, for the first time in 26 years the fourth round of the US Open will be completed on a Monday and the principal fear here last night was that for the first time in the modern era a major would go into a Tuesday. That definitely would be farcical.
And with the utmost respect to the players who resumed their third rounds here yesterday lunchtime, as many eyes were focused on the weather reports as there were on the leaderboards Yet there was still plenty to excite on that said scoreboard. For the New York crowd, which again turned up in impressive numbers despite the morning play being cancelled following yet more overnight storms, there was obviously the presence of Mickelson and when he holed a 30-footer on the last green yesterday their support went into overdrive. If the darling of the Long Island galleries could pull off what would undoubtedly be termed as the miraculous and so win his first US Open, then his fans would not care how long they had waited for the party.
The added poignancy of his wife, Amy, at home preparing to undergo surgery for breast cancer, did not really need mentioning.
For Britain, meanwhile, there was the sight of Fisher up there in contention.
This week the 28-year-old has emerged as a major performer and had a genuine shot of becoming the first European winner since Tony Jacklin in 1970. His approach to four feet on the 18th last night screamed of a confident performer who has taken so much from his performance last month at Wentworth. Fisher went out for the climatic 18 last night knowing that a replication of the 64 which pushed Paul Casey so close in the BMW PGA Championship could very well be enough today.
This has not been your usual US Open and no eventuality dare be discounted.
The downpours which caused a near Thursday washout, followed by the near perfect conditions of Friday and most of Saturday, made Bethpage as benign as it could ever be; certainly for the lucky half of the draw.
Barnes took primary advantage of the conditions, posting a 36-hole US Open scoring record with 132 shots (eightunder).
On eagling the fourth yesterday, the 28-year-old became just the fourth player in US Open history to reach double digits under par. Two of the other three (Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000 and Jim Furyk in 2003 at Olympia Fields) went on to win. But it was what befell the other double-digit man that was attracting most of the comparisons here.
In 1992, Gil Morgan went seven strokes clear after three holes of his third round, but ended up in a tie for 13th, eight shots behind Tom Kite. For his own career, it can only be hoped Barnes does not suffer a similar calamity and at the very least he can build on this week. Since winning the 2002 US Amateur and finishing 21st in the next year’s Masters (where he partneredWoods and beat him by seven shots in the first round) Barnes has plainly struggled. This is the first year he has held a full card on the PGA Tour, although his best finish has been a tie for 47th at last week’s St Jude Classic in Memphis. Believe it, Barnes would be a shock but apt winner today.
It has been that sort of US Open.
Third round scores
US Open Championship, Bethpage State Park (Black Course), Farmingdale, New York
(US unless stated, par 70): 202 R Barnes 67 65 70. 203 L Glover 69 64 70. 207 R Fisher (Eng) 70 68 69, D Duval 67 70 70. 208 P Mickelson 69 70 69, H Mahan 72 68 68, M Weir (Can) 64 70 74. 209 S O’Hair 69 69 71, R Goosen (SA) 73 68 68, B Watson 72 70 67, T Hamilton 67 71 71. 210 P Hanson (Swe) 66 71 73, GrMcDowell (N Irl) 69 72 69, S Ames (Can) 74 66 70. 211 S Stricker 73 66 72, T Woods 74 69 68, O Wilson (Eng) 70 70 71, S Hansen (Den) 70 71 70, R Moore 70 69 72. 212 MSim (Aus) 71 70 71, S Garcia (Sp) 70 70 72, S Cink 73 69 70, J Edfors (Swe) 70 74 68, L Westwood (Eng) 72 66 74. 213 A Kim 71 71 71, J.B.
Holmes 73 67 73, A Scott (Aus) 69 71 73, M Bettencourt 75 67 71, *N Taylor (Can) 73 65 75, J Mallinger 71 70 72, H Stenson (Swe) 73 70 70. 214 R McIlroy (N Irl) 72 70 72, A Yano (Japan) 72 65 77, C Villegas (Col) 71 71 72. 215 F Molinari (It) 71 70 74, J Furyk 72 69 74, B Mayfair 73 70 72, G Woodland 73 66 76, *D Weaver 69 72 74, T Levet (Fr) 72 72 71. 216 C Pettersson (Swe) 75 68 73. 217D Johnson 72 69 76, V Singh (Fiji) 72 72 73, I Poulter (Eng) 70 74 73, K Sutherland 71 73 73, B Curtis 72 71 74, G Ogilvy (Aus) 73 67 77, T Murphy 71 69 77. 218 K Perry 71 72 75, *K Stanley 70 74 74, T Lehman 71 73 74, A Cabrera (Arg) 74 69 75, T Clark (SA 73 71 74, A McLardy (SA) 71 72 75. 219 K J Choi (Kor) 72 71 76, J-F Lucquin (Fr) 73 71 75, F Funk 70 74 75. 220 A Romero (Arg) 73 70 77, R Mediate 68 73 79. 223 J Brehaut 70 72 81 *denotes amateurReuse content