The surge of Sergio: Spaniard turns up the heat as he leads a game of Catch That Tiger - Golf - Sport - The Independent

The surge of Sergio: Spaniard turns up the heat as he leads a game of Catch That Tiger

Never has a two-horse race had so many runners. Sergio Garcia and Chris DiMarco ­ not to mention a few others ­ made a delicious mockery yesterday of Friday's declaration that this Open would be a private affair between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els.

The supposedly sole occupants of centre stage are now just part of a glorious chorus after a third round when shock cried out everywhere. And it was the little Spaniard, with his day's best round of 65, who was the jawdropper-in-chief.

His 12-under total meant he had made up six shots on the spluttering Woods and today he will have the honour of partnering the one-shot leader in the final group. Take yesterday's lesson, though, and do not for one moment believe it rests between them, as in behind are a whole stable of golfing heavyweights helping to form the best Open leaderboard since Greg Norman's pinnacle at Sandwich in 1993.

Els and DiMarco alongside Garcia, with Jim Furyk and Angel Cabrera on 11-under and nine more within five shots of Woods... this could one be Super Sunday. Thank this enthralling Saturday for that.

Quite simply, Open dramas do not get any more gripping. It was Moving Day and Garcia set off like a Pickford's van fitted with a Ferrari engine. Starting at five under, Garcia was billed as the embodiment of European futility and the triumphant Ryder Cup team's palpable inability to replicate in strokeplay that which they find so natural in matchplay. Make that 28 winless majors, or so said the doom-mongers. But not Garcia.

The 26-year-old was a man possessed and he obviously had been ­ by a spirit many had suspected had left his maturing body. As Hoylake squinted its eyes to discover who was this whirr of brilliance, the image appeared of that 19-year-old at Medinah in 1999 when everything seemed possible as he dared to tug the tail of the uncatchable Tiger. If anything, however, this Sergio surge was even more impressive.

It was a Woods moment of all his very own that got his ball rolling, all the way into the cup in fact with a nine-iron from 140 yards. True, it was some 72 yards shorter than Woods' audacious hole-finder the day before, but it was just as well-timed.

It was the thunderbolt that lit the fire and how he burned through the third to the 10th with four birdies and so many great shots that it is difficult to know where to start. Perhaps his approach to the ninth when he simply ignored the bunker not 10 feet in front of the pin to land it at hole-side? At that stage Woods had yet to tee off, but already his lead was down to one. When he bogeyed the second, finding the trap guarding the green, it was suddenly nothing and the scoreboard took on a competitiveness nobody could have imagined with Furyk dragged along in Garcia's irresistible slipstream and DiMarco timing his advance to perfection. Els, meanwhile, was busy stalling his retreat.

In fact, that is all the South African did all afternoon. How Els broke par with a 71 only his short game could testify after a series of sliced drives and pulled irons that caused him to visit both bunker and bush. "I could have easily shot a 76 out there," he said, more relieved than rueful. In contrast, Woods was accurate enough with everything bar his putter and but for three missed three-footers ­ on the 10th, 14th and 17th ­ then his cautious gameplan would still have had him well ahead. "If I'd have putted normally I would now have a four-shot lead," he said.

Instead, as he finished with a 71, his cushion was only one, although that "only" needs putting in some sort of perspective. Woods has led, or held the lead, after 54 holes in majors on 10 occasions. Funny then, that he has 10 majors in his locker and has never once won from behind. That statistic surely tells its own story. "Yeah, I've done it before," Woods said, before running for the practice green. "And that's the thing. You always know you can do it again."

It was confident stuff but why shouldn't it have been? He can be forgiven for scanning down the other names up there in lights last night and barely losing a second's sleep. DiMarco's been seen off before, Garcia's been seen off before and so has Els. For instance, the last time the latter played with Woods in the final round of a major he shot a 67 and Els shot 72. At that US Open at Pebble Beach in 2000, Woods won by 15 shots.

Still that won't happen here ­ will it? ­ and graciously Woods was quick to give Garcia ­ who he has not always warmed to ­ his due. " What a wonderful, wonderful round," he said. "Sergio played beautifully. To take it that low with these pins ­ that were in the most difficult positions I've ever seen in an Open ­ and in these quick conditions was some run of golf. It will be fun for us to both go out and try to win tomorrow."

Woods went on to stress that "there are a bunch of guys up there fighting with us" and one could almost sense that Garcia is the only rival he has exactly where he wants him ­ playing with him. Intriguingly, the one who may strike most fear into his stone heart is not the strangely wayward Els, but DiMarco.

More than anyone ever has, at last year's Masters the gutsy New Yorker ran him close and here he proved why. After dropping two shots in three holes up to the turn, DiMarco was beating a fast path backwards until three successive birdies from the 11th and another at the 16th put him into the forefront of contention after a 69. With Cabrera raising the possibility of a back-to-back Hoylake double ­ some 39 years apart ­ for Argentina with a 66 and with Furyk matching him, there are so many within sight of the Claret Jug that Hoylake's credentials as a venue can never be doubted again.

But whatever today's drama, it will still struggle to match this fare, as this day had everything. And indeed something for every continent. Adam Scott is not without a squeak on nine-under and Hideto Tanihara left all little-known form behind with a 66 to haul the hero from Hiroshima to 10-under. So Asia is represented in the top 10 as are Australasia, America, Africa, and Europe. Why, this isn't The British Open it's the World Open. But Garcia may never have a better chance to claim it back for the home boys.


GB or Irl unless stated

* denotes amateur

203 (13 under)

T Woods (US ) 67 65 71

204 (12 under)

S Garcia (Sp) 68 71 65

C DiMarco (US) 70 65 69

E Els (SA) 68 65 71

205 (11 under)

J Furyk (US) 68 71 66

A Cabrera (Arg) 71 68 66

206 (10 under)

H Tanihara (Japan) 72 68 66

207 (9 under)

M Calcavecchia (US) 71 68 68

A Scott (Aus) 68 69 70

208 (8 under)

A Romero (Arg) 70 70 68

G Owen 67 73 68

P Lonard (Aus) 71 69 68

R Allenby (Aus) 69 70 69

J Kelly (US) 72 67 69

R Goosen (SA) 70 66 72

210 (6 under)

S Verplank (US) 70 73 67

S Khan 70 72 68

S K Ho (Kor) 68 73 69

T Clark (SA) 72 69 69

K Fukabori (Japan) 67 73 70

C Pettersson (Swe) 68 72 70

G Ogilvy (Aus) 71 69 70

B Crane (US) 68 71 71

M Ilonen (Fin) 68 69 73

211 (5 under)

A Marshall 72 71 68

H Mahan (US) 73 70 68

J Sluman (US) 71 72 68

A Wall 67 73 71

M Fraser (Aus) 68 71 72

B Rumford (Aus) 68 71 72

G McDowell 66 73 72

R Rock 69 69 73

212 (4 under)

J Bickerton 72 70 72

L Slattery 69 72 71

R Karlsson (Swe) 70 71 71

C Schwartzel (SA) 74 66 72

G Fernandez-Castano (Sp) 70 69 73

R Sabbatini (Rsa) 69 70 73

213 (3 under)

S Wakefield 72 71 70

S Dyson 74 69 70

S Kjeldsen (Den) 71 71 71

A Buckle (Aus) 72 69 72

S Ames (Can) 70 71 72

P Mickelson (US) 69 71 73

M Weir (Can) 68 72 73

T Wiratchant (Tha) 71 68 74

M A Jimenez (Sp) 67 70 76

214 (2 under)

S O'Hair (US) 69 73 72

R Pampling (Aus) 69 71 74

M Hensby (Aus) 68 72 74

215 (1 under)

P Broadhurst 71 71 73

L Donald 74 68 73

B Jobe (US) 69 71 75

216 (Level par)

J Senden (Aus) 70 73 73

T Bjorn (Den) 72 71 73

L Westwood 69 72 75

M Campbell (NZ) 70 71 75

217 (1 over)

T Hamilton (US) 72 71 74

H Stenson (Swe) 72 71 74

C Campbell (US) 70 73 74

T Watson (US) 72 70 75

*M Thorp (Nor) 71 71 75

J M Olazabal (Sp) 73 68 76

218 (2 over)

F Funk (US) 69 74 75

M O'Meara (US) 71 70 77

D Duval (US) 70 70 78

220 (4 over)

V Taylor (US) 72 71 77

B Bryant (US) 69 74 77

*E Molinari (It) 73 70 77

221 (5 over)

P Casey 72 70 79

M Ruiz (Par) 71 70 80

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