Ferrie lurks to spoil Mickelson party

Europeans keep alive dream of emulating Jacklin in white knuckle ride on Winged Foot roller-coaster
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The Independent Online

Nevertheless, Ferrie's brave challenge cannot be underestimated as he tries to fill the 36-year US Open void stretching back to Tony Jacklin in 1970. In fact, the European interest does not rest solely on Ferrie's adequate but inexperienced shoulders as there are three others in the top 10 as well, including Padraig Harrington despite the Dubliner taking a treble-bogey on the last to fall back to six-over, four behind the pace.

The main hope rests with Ferrie, however, after Colin Montgomerie also slipped back to Harrington's mark. It has been some shift in fortunes for the 27-year-old from Ashington, and not just because he is barely in the top 100 in the European money list so far this season. A little over a month ago at the Irish Open, the two-time Tour winner dared question Paul McGinley's stainless integrity in a nasty rules rumpus and afterwards, very contritely, he promised to keep a lid on it and henceforth let his game do the talking.

When he eagled the fifth yesterday it was fairly screaming as he caught the overnight leader, Steve Stricker, at one under. That was to be it as far as the red figures went, but while his American rival went backwards, Ferrie refused to do so on a Winged Foot course that resembles a roller-coaster in its contours and its affect on the emotions. Ferrie stood firm, his 71 commendable, even though a five-footer went begging on the final green.

Meanwhile, Mickelson's 69 oozed as much gumption as it did class. Indeed, he might even have taken a one-shot advantage himself, if he had holed his 12-footer for birdie on the 18th. But perhaps it was better that he did not as New York would doubtless have been left without a voice for today.

Be sure, if yesterday was any signifier this final round will be loud and partisan and it can be forgiven for being so, what with their main man gunning to become only the third player ever - after Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan - to win three majors in succession. He is an overwhelming favourite, although nothing can be taken for granted at this place. Montgomerie's start showed how deep the Winged Foot talons can dig and how quickly things can change.

Starting in the final grouping of the "world's toughest major" for the first time since 1997, Montgomerie dropped five shots in the first four holes as his driving, irons and putting went askew. It all stank of a traditional Monty retreat; here came the double teapot stance (hands on both hips) and yet another major hack to ignominy. Except blessed with a new attitude he calls "mellow", Montgomerie kept smiling, kept grinding and courageously played the next 14 holes in par for a far from disastrous 75 to lie three behind.

Up alongside him in joint fourth is Ian Poulter, although the Englishman left Mamaroneck seething after what he agreed was "my best ever round in a major". Coming up the 18th he was two under for the day, three over the tournament, and on course for the day's best round.

Indeed, as he watched his wedge zero in on the flag from 140 yards he thought he was set for a 67, the week's best score. "I'm telling you, that was stiff," he said. Alas it only travelled 139 yards and cruelly rolled back down and off the sloping green. Then his chip committed a similar crime and suddenly what had seemed to him a birdie was a double bogey.

"I'm gutted at the moment but I'm playing great so I have to be confident about tomorrow," he said. "I said to Mick, my caddie, out there, 'look at all the Europeans up there'. It's not going to be long before one of us wins a US Open. Who knows, maybe even today."

It is not just the starring quartet, either, because there is something of a support cast ready to step in, most intriguingly Luke Donald, who has played better than anybody in the second and third rounds following his opening 78.

A 69 on Friday was followed by a 70 yesterday and the boy from High Wycombe is obviously enjoying himself. "Good solid golf," said the world No 11. "When I holed a birdie on 16 to get to six under, I thought if I can grab another I'll be bang in this. But then came the bogey on the 18th and I thought that was it. But looking at it now... well, anything can happen."

Too right it can, although the chances are that Mickelson will happen. Men with history on their minds have a habit of making sense out of mayhem.