Casey closes in on Mickelson the nearly man

The Masters: Justin wilts in the big heat as American left-hander makes his major move to put Tiger in the shade
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The Independent Online

Justin Rose and Paul Casey, two young Englishmen who are likely to form a new-wave partnership in the Ryder Cup against the United States in Detroit in September, experienced a reversal of fortunes during the third round of the Masters here yesterday.

As the temperature rose on the hottest day of the tournament, Rose, the leader at the halfway stage by two strokes, dropped six shots on the first nine holes. He made a disconcerting start when his drive on the opening hole found a bunker on the right and although he hit a clean shot from the sand it was slightly overcooked. His ball rolled through the green down the bank from where he chipped to eight feet and missed the putt to save par.

That, though, was a minor blemish compared to what happened to him on the second. A par five of 575 yards, Rose was looking for a birdie to erase the bogey at the first. Instead he completely misjudged his third shot, sending his chip flying into the crowd assembled around the back of the green and the result was an ugly six.

The 23-year-old seemed to be caught in a tail spin as he dropped another shot at the third. He scored his first par at the fourth but dropped another stroke at the fifth. There was no respite and he sank like the Mary Rose, going out in 42 and coming back in 39 for an 81 which left him, like Tiger Woods, nine strokes adrift of the leaders, Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco.

Up ahead, Casey, who had begun the third round at level par, advanced to three under at the turn with birdies at the third, the fifth and the ninth. He picked up another stroke at the 15th to come in with a 68 which put him at four under par for the tournament, only two strokes behind Mickelson and DiMarco.

Casey, who was born in Cheltenham and who lives in Weybridge, Surrey, turned professional four years ago after a hugely impressive performance in Great Britain and Ireland's Walker Cup victory over the United States at Nairn the previous year. Casey won the English Amateur Championship in 1999 and 2000 after honing his game at Arizona State University where he broke a scoring record which had been set by Tiger Woods.

A feature of Casey's game-plan was "not to get worked up about the place." To relax he had been playing table-tennis with friends and drove up Magnolia Lane to the background music of "Tragedy" by the Bee Gees. Last night he was grinning like like a Cheltenham cat.

Woods failed to make an impression on the front nine yesterday, going to the turn in a two-over-par 38. He opened with a bogey five, finding the same bunker as Rose. Although he gained the stroke back with a birdie at the second, dropped further shots at the sixth and ninth. His chances appeared to disappear at the 13th where he had a double-bogey seven. He finished with a 75.

Mickleson, resuming at three under par, and his fellow American DiMarco, who had started the day at two under, went to the turn in 33, DiMarco, en route to scoring a 68, Mickelson a 69.

Five shots off the lead is the Swede Frederik Jacobson. Jacobson, a former ice-hockey player, kept a cool head in returning a 67, an outstanding score in the context of the day. Jacobson, following two rounds of 74, stood at one under par for the tournament with an aggregate of 215. "If I can put together another score like that I'll have a good chance,'' he said. "I looked at this tournament on television and felt it would suit my game. You can be creative.''

Ernie Els, one of the favourites, got to four under on the front nine but bogeys at the 11th and the 13th stalled his challenge. He got a stroke back at the 15th to finish with a 71 on three under.

Other Europeans to move up the leaderboard were Padraig Harrington and Bernhard Langer. Harrington, who has won more than $1m on the US Tour in the last couple of weeks, fashioned a 68 for a level-par total of 216.

The Dubliner had a very neat round indeed going to the turn in 34 and coming home in 34 with birdies at the second, the seventh, the 10th, the 13th and the 18th. His only dropped shot came at the par-three 12th. "The first two days were tough but being first out provided me with a perfect opportunity for scoring,'' Harrington said. "There is not the same pressure as going out leading.''

Although Harrington was behind a tree at the first hole, he managed to salvage par and that boosted his confidence as he went on the attack. "I was only interested in shooting a good score and going forward,'' he said. What Harrington achieved at the 18th was something the rest of the field will give their eye teeth for today. The 465-yard uphill par four has been proving a extremely difficult finale but Harrington recorded a birdie after a hitting a five-iron 182 yards to within 10 feet. "I managed to make things happen,'' Harrington said. "All in all I'm pretty happy.''

Langer, who won the Green Jacket in 1985 and again in 1993, picked up a birdie at the second and another at the 11th to get to two under for the tournament after being level par for the first two rounds. The German, who had dropped back to one under at the 14th, had an eagle three at the 15th where he holed a 10-footer, a score that enabled him to come home in 34 for a 69. A victim of the yips, Langer resurrected his career by using the long putter and over these notoriously fast and fickle greens, it was standing him in good stead.

Some like it hot, and that obviously includes Mickelson, who has never won a major in 46 attempts and Casey who is making his debut here. Mickelson is also a graduate of Arizona State University and the pair are good friends.

AUGUSTA LEADERBOARD

-6
P Mickelson (US)
C DiMarco (US)

-4
P Casey (GB)

-3
E Els (SA)
K J Choi (S Kor)
B Langer (Ger)

-2
K Triplett (US)

-1
F Jacobsen (Swe)

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