Karlsson over the hills and far away

Giant Swede rediscovers best form to break 54-hole Tour record and take control of Wales Open
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The Independent Online

In fact, only the record compilers should be focusing on Karlsson now as the rest play for second in the Wales Open. His 54-hole total of 189 is the lowest in the history of the European Tour by a staggering three shots (some bloke called Tiger Woods used to hold the record), and should he go under par again today then Ian Woosnam's 72-hole mark will be rewritten as well.

True, the Roman Road course is only a par 69 measuring a "paltry" 6,743 yards, but the fact that the 36-year-old is six clear of his nearest pursuer tells the story of how effective he has been in easing to 18 under. Christened the "Peter Crouch of golf" due to his 6ft 6in frame and - go on then - robotic motion, Karlsson has never reached the heights his lofty ambitions promised.

In 1999 he was the unlucky 11th in the Ryder Cup standings, controversially overlooked by Mark James in favour of Andrew Coltart (who was disqualified here this week), and in the years following his career petered out from frequent contender to persistent backmarker. Two campaigns ago he only retained his Tour privileges on the season's very last day, beating Jarrod Moseley to the last card by £9.39 - "the change in my pocket" - and although 2005 brought the consistency that characterised his earlier years, only now does his potential seem about to be revisited.

"You know, I can never make up for what happened in 1999, and looking back on what went on in Brookline, with all the bad feeling there and everything, maybe it was a good Ryder Cup to miss," he said. "I learnt a lot from that experience, questioning why it happened, how it had happened, for what reasons the captain didn't pick me, and it's undoubtedly made me more mature and less hotheaded."

Indeed, he was as ice-cold as that old Swedish cliché suggests he would be, and if it was not for a double bogey on the 14th then the gap would have appeared even more unbreachable. There he found water, where trouble before had been a foreign land. No matter, Karlsson simply eagled the 16th, when propelling his drive 348 yards, his eight-iron 190 yards and his putt the required two feet. When he birdied the last for a 65 - laughably his worst round of the week - a day of supposed consolidation had become a day of confirmation.

"I am really, really surprised that no one is closer to me," Karlsson admitted. "I couldn't believe it when I looked at the scoreboard on the 17th and found I had such a big lead. I mean, it was a bit tougher, but in this weather still well 'gettable'."

But not everyone found the five-star Celtic Manor resort as accommodating as it had been the first two days. A capricious breeze had whipped up and although the sun was still where it has been all tournament - high and handsome - the greens continued to baffle with their lack of pace. "The greens are so slow you can almost hear the grass growing," said Phillip Archer.

Colin Montgomerie could definitely hear things out there, but then there are bats which would give their left wings for the Scot's ears. Montgomerie was his irresistible scowling self as he stared at spectators who dared exhale as one of many putts came up short. A 69 left him at nine under, but not even this upturn in fortunes that had dipped markedly in a recent slump of seven missed cuts in 10 outings could placate this weary soul. "Not now," he said to reporters gathered to speak to him.

Paul Broadhurst would never be so rude, but had every right to be after getting to within three of Karlsson after five. He then took a step backwards as his playing partner bounded three forwards. "Robert is making the course like a pitch-and-putt track," said Broadhurst. "I am hitting it as far as I can and he is still doing me by 30 to 40 yards off the tee."

A victory here would have made his Ryder Cup qualification a near-certainty. Not as near a one as Karlsson's, though.