Goosen in silent running as his clubs do the talking on Tiger's trail

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The Independent Online

The South African lies two strokes behind the overnight leader after a round characterised by trademark poise, serenity and calm. The noisiest thing about him all day was his waterproofs, crackling in the wind.

If it is Goosen who is left wearing the trousers on Sunday evening we can expect the most muted of celebrations. The world No 5, once a club-throwing beast of the fairways, has overcompensated to the point where all passion seems to have been syringed out of him. He does not emote and he does not speak much, either.

Most people get smugly boring in the post-round discussion of a 68. Yet when Goosen was called on to elaborate on his nerveless composition he came to the interview area with all the joie de vivre of a man arriving for root canal treatment.

"I'm still not hitting it as correct or as good as I know I can hit it," he said. "I hit a couple of good shots out there, which gives you a bit of confidence. I probably didn't drive it as well as I'd like to. But the big difference was I putted better today. I made a few good putts and that's the difference." The easy notion was that this effort was catharsis for the big man. The last time he appeared on the major stage was in the US Open at Pinehurst, where he managed to turn a three-stroke final-round lead into ashes with an 81. Goosen insisted that was now a mere footnote and you had to believe him.

"Pinehurst is pretty much history," he said. "I wasn't thinking about it at all... It was one of those rounds of golf I've been playing bad. Pinehurst has been completely forgotten."

It was an early start for Goosen, a 7.14am tee time in company with Todd Hamilton, the defending champion, and Lee Westwood. It was cooler than of late and the morning wind was not particularly offensive. The Old Course was still relatively sleepy, but it did hold an immediate terror for Westwood.

To start as he had done at Royal Troon last year - when he was the first European in fourth place - might have carried mightier symbolism had he not been replicating a double-bogey six. A sand wedge into the Swilken Burn and a missed short putt added up to another fine mess.

"It's becoming a trend," Westwood said after his 76. "You want to get off to a good start anywhere. But knocking it into the stream at the first is not the way to do it. I didn't particularly play very well. I didn't hit that many good shots. When I did hit good shots I didn't hole the putts. You can't score well doing that. I just wasn't on my game."

Hamilton had to birdie three of the last four holes to get away with a 74. Not much happened for the American, not many putts of any distinction and little gallery acknowledgement that here was the champion golfer of 2004. He was an unheralded sovereign. "I thought the pins were difficult today for me," Hamilton said. "There were a lot of bounces away from the holes. You don't see many balls bouncing towards the hole and that makes it tough. This is a difficult golf course."

It was tranquil on both sides of the ropes. Goosen does that to people. You could imagine him being admonished in a library for being too quiet.

His golf, though, was soon rumbling when he hit a sand wedge to two feet on the third. A drive and a two-iron then took him to within chipping distance of the par-five fifth and a four-foot putt did the rest. Goosen did not let the supine 352-yard ninth escape either, surfing the prevailing south-west wind to drive the green. An eight-iron to 20 feet at the 10th was converted, as was a 10-foot putt on No 12.

But then, just as the name of Tiger Woods started to creep up the leaderboards behind him, it went wrong.

It was, in totality, a beautiful round, which featured only one other slip, a bogey on the seventh, but Hole-O'Cross-in, the 13th, was the scar on the angel's face.

Goosen and Westwood both drove into the last of the fairway coffin bunkers - for which the clue is in the name. Westwood, who must have considered his round was going nowhere at that stage, actually found himself going backwards to extricate himself from the trap.

Goosen did manage to move his ball ahead, but a lacklustre approach was followed by three putts and the shape of the round had changed. The 36-year-old may have been mad, but it did not show. You could never tell if he was on the way to a wedding or a funeral. There was immediate damage limitation at the longest hole on the course, the 618 yards over the Beardies, Elysian Fields and Hell Bunker, which Goosen covered with a driver and three-wood before taking two putts from 30 feet.

A drive on the last was not far from going out of bounds over the back, and two putts followed for a seventh and final birdie of the round.

At the debrief, the suspicion was that Goosen quite fancies his chances - even if his assessment was somewhat downbeat.

"Obviously some of the flags will get tougher as the week goes on but, if the weather stays like this, you're probably going to have to get up there to 14 under," he said. "I'm looking forward to the week, hopefully to get a good tournament in and give myself a good chance on Sunday."