Brian on the bright side of life

The home front are winning the battle of pride
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The Independent Online

When Julius Caesar led his legions ashore on this part of the Kent coast in 55BC, history could have been changed had Royal St George's golf club been in existence. He would not have been allowed in because; a) he was not a member; and b) he was wearing a skirt.

We scoured St George's yesterday for other examples of such defiant resistance to outsiders, and there were one or two encouraging signs that the battered Brits might yet have it in them to repel the invaders.

There were, however, times when they looked more like the Home Guard than bristling defenders. Yet, when first Nick Faldo and then Mark Roe came home with 67s, there was hope on the horizon. Roe's subsequent disqualification was an appalling blow, and that leaves our main chance in the calm hands of Phil Price, who was, for a tantalising while late in the afternoon, the leader in the clubhouse.

If patience is the key to this course then Price must have a chance. He played steadily throughout and then pounced with a birdie on each of the final two holes for a 69.

Gary Evans, who partnered Fred Couples yesterday, was another who didn't get too excited. His 70 puts him in the same position from which he mounted his charge in last year's Open, when a lost ball on the 17th cruelly edged him out of the play-off.

The home survivors after Friday's cut were given a boost in morale when Nick Faldo, Ian Poulter, Brian Davis and the Ryder Cup hero Paul McGinley began to show that the course would be more merciful to the brave than it had been on the first two days.

All four had scraped in on Friday night only by the narrowest of margins, and knew they would have to produce something extra-special to gain an attacking position for this morning. Faldo did it best with the first 67 of the tournament, but the others also weighed with fighting rounds.

Poulter partnered Faldo, and their duel produced some excellent golf. After coming back from obscurity to win the Wales Open a month ago, Poulter has sustained his improvement, and he returned a one-under-par 70 with which he can be well satisfied.

But before Faldo struck, the attention was grabbed by Davis, who has had a turbulent time in recent months as he has hit the top and bottom emotions. Davis made what seemed a foolhardily optimistic visit to America to attempt to qualify for the US Open in June, and achieved it. He then proceeded to take America by storm. On the opening day, he eagled the first hole and birdied the next three to shoot his name to the top of the leaderboard at five under.

It didn't last, but he'd made his mark. Sadly, while he was on his American adventure his wife, Julie, collapsed. The daughter of former England goalkeeper Ray Clemence, she is still undergoing tests as a result, and they have yet to hear the outcome.

Nevertheless, Julie accompanied Brian on the other side of the ropes yesterday and saw him get off to an excellent start by sinking a long putt for a birdie on the first. The momentum he took from that carried him to 32 for the first nine. He then hit a great pitch into the 10th to set up the fifth birdie of his round.

The 29-year-old was heading for an exceptional score but dropped two shots over the last three holes. He was very close with a 60-foot putt for birdie on the 16th but missed the return to get a bogey. Then he dallied in the rough for two shots on the 18th to get a five, and had to be satisfied with a 68.

Paul McGinley was the other sub-70 success yesterday. He scored three consecutive birdies on the outward nine but found the course still a tricky prospect, so he should be pleased with his 69.

Darren Clarke returned his best score of the tournament, but his level-par 71 still left him eight over par overall. Clarke confessed he found the course too tough, and added: "I can't wait to drive out of here on Sunday night."

Padraig Harrington put himself into a very promising position with an eagle at the seventh and four further birdies. Then the Irishman fell to double bogeys at the 10th and 15th and finished with a 74.

After the spirited golf that brought him into the tournament as a qualifier at the start of the week, Ian Woosnam sank back with a sad 80. Alastair Forsyth would have been the most disappointed Briton, though, after the Scot drifted from two to nine over following a round of 78.

Two Brits, David Lynn and Tony Wall, came in with creditable 71s, but the really heartening statistic was that while we returned two 67s, the invaders only got one between them.