Scott heading league of nations

English Open: Young Australian tops cosmopolitan leaderboard as home challenge languishes off the pace
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The Independent Online

For the British, read Les Miserables. The European Tour is refreshingly cosmopolitan in its outlook, but the leaderboard for the Compass English Open championship in Shakespeare's county could do with a modest injection of Anglo-Saxon blood, if only to stem the torrent of enquiries from spectators along the lines of "Who the hell is that?"

After the third round here yesterday, the 20-year-old Australian Adam Scott led the tournament with a 12-under-par total of 204 after a 67, and he was followed by Jean Hugo (yes, his father is called Victor), Raphael Jacquelin, Marco Bernadini, Justin Rose and Peter O'Malley.

Scott, who was born in Adelaide, lives on Hope Island; Hugo is a former South African amateur champion from the Springbok and wine region of Stellenbosch; Rose was born in Johannesburg and raised in the Hampshire village of Hook; Jacquelin is from Lyon (yes, he has a son called Hugo); and Bernadini, whose interests are reading and body-building, is from Rome.

These are, of course, all fine young players competing for large sums of money, but in the heart of England where on earth is the home-grown challenge? It is a question that has recurred throughout the season, and a look at the European team rankings for the Ryder Cup match against the United States at The Belfry in September confirms the impression that the British are over-weight, overpaid, over here and off the pace.

The top 12 as we speak include one Englishman, Lee Westwood, three Swedes, three Irishmen, two Scots, a Dane, a Welshman and a Spaniard.

The Scotsman in 12th place is Colin Montgomerie, who disappeared from the course here after playing only three holes of the second round following a 76 in the first. The seven-times European No 1, who has been having, by his standards, a poor season, complained of a bad back.

Cynics suggest that his problem is more mental than physical. Yesterday, Monty had treatment from a specialist and said that his chances of playing in the US Open championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which starts on Thursday, are brighter than they were when he left here on Friday morning.

Montgomerie holds the course record at the Forest of Arden, a 63, but on this form he would not have made the halfway cut, which fell at 149 ­ five over par. This was an indication of how hard this parkland layout has been playing, at least over the first two days, when the flags blew and put the wind up the field.

Yesterday, the trees and the flags were comparatively calm in the forest and, as it happened, a local Englishman did make an impression.

John Bickerton, who is sponsored by the Marriott Forest of Arden Hotel, went out at 7.49am and came home in time for elevenses with a 64, a stroke outside Montgomerie's record. Had it not been for a bogey four at the last, an extremely difficult par-three of 209 yards, he would have equalled that extraordinary score.

Despite his local connections, Bickerton began this week's campaign with a seven-over-par 79. Of his 64, he said: "It was one of those rounds which just happened. Some days you don't expect it and it just hits you out of the blue. I probably apologised to a few people after my 79 on Thursday. You know how it is. You come out and you have a triple-bogey and a double-bogey and all of a sudden you are five over par. In those conditions you can't chase birdies because they just don't happen."

Yesterday he chased not only birdies, which punctuated his outward nine of 31, but an eagle, a three at the 543-yard 12th hole where he hit a tremendous three-wood to within six feet of the flag.

In the final round today, Scott will partner Jacquelin, holding a two-stroke lead over the Frenchman and also over the South African Hugo. Scott, a 20-year-old who won the Australian junior championship in 1996 and 1997, was originally coached by his father, Phil, a professional golfer, but is now tutored by Butch Harmon, the American who works with Tiger Woods. This is very much a deliberate ploy, because Scott believes that at this stage of his career he is further ahead than Woods. This is some claim.

In the third round here, Scott, who pipped Rose to win the Alfred Dunhill Championship in Johannesburg in January, went to the turn in 33 following four birdies. His only bogey on the front nine was a five at the second and he came home in 34, which was uneventful but for the last three holes. He had a birdie three at the 16th, an eagle three at the 17th, where he holed from 30 feet, and a bogey four at the 18th. Hugo had a 68 which included eight birdies and four bogeys and he too took a four at the last, which must be one of the most punishing holes in championship golf. When Scott stands on the 18th tee today, he would still very much like the cushion of a two-stroke lead.