The Open 2004

The Quiet American Part II

Hamilton threatens a Curtis repeat while Els waits to usurp Tiger

For Ben Curtis, read Todd Hamilton? They are both American and, like Curtis last year, Hamilton is a rookie on the US Tour. But there are few other similarities. Curtis was unknown and untested. Hamilton has won in both Asia and Japan, as well as at the Honda Classic in Florida in March.

For Ben Curtis, read Todd Hamilton? They are both American and like Curtis last year, Hamilton is a rookie on the US Tour. But there are few other similarities. Curtis was unknown and untested. Hamilton has won in both Asia and Japan, as well as at the Honda Classic in Florida in March.

But just as Curtis did at Royal St George's last year, Hamilton will have to beat a line-up of the best players in the world to lift the Claret Jug. On a day of typically changeable British summer weather at the 133rd Open Championship, which induced similar unpredictability on the leaderboard, the trend was blindingly obvious. The big gorillas were stirring.

Since Tiger Woods went off the boil, the majors have been a free-for-all, but this season has thrown up a compelling, and continuing, narrative. Behind Hamilton, who leads after 54 holes at eight under par, is Ernie Els, one adrift, with Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen a further stroke back alongside Thomas Levet.

Even Woods is there, for the first time at a major for a year. He is at four under, one behind the leading British challenger, Barry Lane, who shared the lead before dropping three strokes at the last two holes. Colin Montgomerie, on his home course, was roared on by the Scottish gallery but for the second day running missed a short putt at the last to drop back to three under.

Both Monty, like former Masters champion Mike Weir, is five behind, the same margin adrift as Justin Leonard was at the same stage at Troon in 1997. Lee Westwood jumped up to 12th but is six back.

Americans have won the last five Opens on the Ayrshire links but this year it has been the States against South Africa. Mickelson, breaking his duck in his 47th major, claimed the Masters at Augusta in April with five birdies in the last seven holes to beat Els by one.

In the US Open, Goosen led by one over Els and Mickelson going into the controversial final round at Shinnecock Hills and while Els succumbed to an 80, the other two played heroically as Goosen beat Mickelson by two for a second title. They were in separate groups then but today they will play together, in the pairing immediately in front of Hamilton and Els, who got to know each other yesterday.

Hamilton scored a brilliant 67 to take over the lead from his countryman Skip Kendall. Out in 33, he birdied the short 14th to reach eight under. "I don't see why it can't happen again," he said in reference to becoming Curtis Mark II. "I'll still be calm like I was today."

He has a wry sense of humour. He usually only comments on his golf to his family "in an angry tone". Now he was explaining to the masses that getting the ball up and down as often he did was routine. "Six times, that's the norm for me. I've got a good gameplan here. If you can't beat the bunkers stay well short of them. This week it's a different style of golf but it suits me. You need to play ugly golf and I enjoy that."

Els was still at four under with six to play. His short game needed to be at its best at times and at the 11th he hit the wall by the railway on the right but failed to get up and down for what he described as a "silly bogey".

From then on, though, Els was his usual supreme self. He birdied the 13th, the 14th and the par-five 16th with some crisp iron-play to be home in 33 for a 68. "I've played good golf for three days," said the South African. "I've had my ups and downs but I've got myself in with a chance. A one-stroke lead at this stage doesn't mean very much. Anyone within four strokes has a chance, depending on the weather."

Els travels all over the world so he is familiar with Hamilton from trips to the Far East. "He is a quality player. He's got a good game for this course. He hits the ball low and he putted very well. He's going to take some beating."

But then there are the other names to worry about as well. "Right now in our careers we live and breath for these tournaments," Els said. "Phil has come along in the last couple of years. We can see the change in his game. He is playing the type of golf that will get him into contention. If he keeps playing this way he can compete in every major.

"There is so much pressure in these tournaments that to be in contention takes a lot out of you. I have really shaped my game to play these tournaments well. But you're going to have to play awfully well tomorrow. I have to play my best and hope for the best."

You would think the Sunday of a major would owe him one. "I don't look at it that way," he said. "To be in contention you have to play well. At Augusta, I played well and got beat. At Shinnecock, I played crap and still finished in the top 10. Retief and Phil were amazing. I was out of it by the 10th but I was really pleased for Retief. We all know who everyone wanted to win but Retief has come through so well in the last few years, we are good friends."

Els has two US Open titles and won The Open at Muirfield two years ago. He could be the first to repeat as an Open champion for 11 years. Woods, the 2000 winner, could still pip Els to that particular claim. He birdied the first two holes in going to the turn in 32 but had a bogey at the 12th ­ the three holes after the turn have proved the most difficult. His 68 was his lowest round in the majors this year.

Two points may be relevant. Though he has won eight majors, the last over two years ago now, he has never come from behind in the final round, while his closing scores in the last six majors have not been better than 71.

Mickelson and Goosen were the only players not to drop a shot on Friday. Goosen saw his run finish at 27 holes when he bogeyed the fifth but finished with another 68, the same as Mickelson. The left-hander birdied the first, the second and the seventh but again kept a bogey off his card. It is 37 holes since he had one.

Woods is the only man under 30 in today's final pairings. The 44-year-old Lane ran into trouble at the 17th when, in thick rough, his recovery ran across the green.

The round started and finish in a squall but Levet appeared not to notice as he went to nine under. The Frenchman double bogeyed the 11th and dropped a shot at the 16th, but the Muirfield runner-up could still succeed where Jean Van de Velde so famously failed in 1999 and become the first French winner since Arnaud Massy in 1907.

Suggested Topics
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star