Tiger's Open and closed case

The 129th Open: Grand Slam there for the taking as the unstoppable Tiger rewrites the record books

Tiger Woods, by far the best player in the world, will face the man considered the next best by the world rankings, David Duval, in the final pairing of today's final round of the 129th Open Championship. But he will do so with the comfort of a six-stroke lead after his second 67 of the week left him at 16 under par. Thomas Bjorn shared second place with Duval. "Someone out there is playing golf on a different planet from the rest of us," said Bjorn.

Tiger Woods, by far the best player in the world, will face the man considered the next best by the world rankings, David Duval, in the final pairing of today's final round of the 129th Open Championship. But he will do so with the comfort of a six-stroke lead after his second 67 of the week left him at 16 under par. Thomas Bjorn shared second place with Duval. "Someone out there is playing golf on a different planet from the rest of us," said Bjorn.

Should Woods complete victory, and the bookmakers have closed the account, he will be the youngest person to win all four grand slam championships. At 24, he has already won the Masters, by 12 strokes in 1997, the US PGA last year, and the US Open by 15 shots last month. He will join Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen in achieving the feat and will have done it in the quickest time, under four years.

"I have to go out and execute each shot and stick to my gameplan," Woods said. "I've got to get the job done. Any time you have a lead you feel a little pressure. The bigger the lead the more pressure you feel. Obviously, if you don't end up winning you are not going to feel too good about yourself." Tiger hardly needs to worry, having lost only twice on 19 previous occasions when he has led after 54 holes.

Once again, he was fairly conservative, yet still managed seven birdies, including three in a row from the 12th and one at the last. Earlier, his run of bogey-free golf ended at 63 holes, dating back to the 10th hole at Pebble Beach. Over the back of the second green, he lagged up to four feet but saw the par-saving attempt lip out. "It was a poor first putt and a poor second putt," he said. "But I birdied the next hole so I reckon it all evens out."

Another rare mistake came at the 17th. He pulled a seven iron approach, which skirted the Road bunker. He then three putted. But he continued to enjoy the challenge. "You have to create every shot," he said. "You can't play a stock shot. Your creativity is tested. That's why I enjoy links golf."

As for facing Duval today, he said: "That's what people want to see. I want to see it too, because he's a friend. We will give everything, and try our best to beat each other."

After flirting with the out of bounds on the right at the 18th, Duval made a putt from six feet at the last to equal the best round of week at 66. As the first man, other than Woods, to get to 10 under and stay there, Duval ensured the world's top two players will tee up in the final group today. "I definitely wanted to make that putt," Duval said. "I didn't think I had a chance of getting in the last group at nine under. I wanted to be there. It's going to be exciting, it's going to be a circus, a slugfest, whatever you want to call it."

Woods has won 13 times since Duval last tasted victory, at the Players' Championship 16 months ago. Despite the number of strokes between them, Duval knew he could put pressure on Woods today by playing alongside him. "You get to look him in the eye," he said. "If I can swing the way I have over the last few days, I can show him I've got a little game going too. To get into the last group of a major with the best player in the world is an experience you want to have. No one has stepped up and played with Tiger recently. It is up to us to give him a run and beat him."

Duval has been in the top 10 of the last three Masters and the last three US Opens. His best chances of victory came at Augusta in 1998 and earlier this year. "I'll be trying to win my first major and he'll be trying to win the slam. There'll be a lot of pressure."

Woods, of course, seems to be able to absorb pressure better than anyone else. "All the great players from whatever sport have the ability to channel it," Duval said. "You don't get immune from pressure but you learn how to deal with it, how the body reacts. What Tiger is good at is using it to his advantage."

Duval said all this while standing up due to the problem with his back. It first became painful after the US Open, but it could have been injured for months. "Today was the best I have felt all week. The joints were back to where I had the full range of motion and I was swinging fine. Although it's painful, I feel everything else in my game is back in place. I feel I am capable of winning this and other tournaments."

It was at the last two rounds at Loch Lomond that Duval rediscovered the sort of touch on the greens he enjoyed when he won 11 times in less than two years from late 1997 to early 1999. Another thing he saw yesterday was a little luck. "I feel things are turning," he said. "I got a few breaks today which I might not have got a couple of months ago."

At the last hole, his drive ran towards the fence on the right before veeringback to the middle of the fairway. "It was awfully close," he said. "I turned a six into a three."

But Ernie Els, the first-round leader, could not avoid a double bogey at the 12th after driving into a gorse bush. He had got to 10 under but a 70 left the South African eight behind at the end to a day that started badly with a rugby defeat by New Zealand.

Another who failed to mount an expected challenge was Sergio Garcia. The 20-year-old had a 73 after taking two to get out of the Road Bunker. He hardly made a putt all day and his frustration showed when he missed the green at the ninth with a poor pitch and he slammed his club into the ground. It was the third time on the front nine he had finished in a divot. "It was like being in a bunker that was only six inches long," he said.

Like Duval, Bjorn birdied the last to get to 10 under par and was another to pick up the shot he had dropped at the 17th. The Dane had a 68 and said: "There are a lot of great names on the leaderboard and I'm quite happy to be among them."

Darren Clarke also had a 68 to be one further back at nine under. The Irishman, who grew up on the great links courses in the North, made six birdies, two coming in the last three holes. "I'm just going to try to go as low as I can tomorrow," Clarke said. "You can't put a figure on it because this course can jump up and bite you. It's a case of being patient."

As a celebration of the game, this week could not have been much better. The attendance for the week is set to surpass the 208,680 who turned up in 1990 and yesterday's gallery of 49,000 set a new daily record for the second day running. If only a little wind had turned up for the party. But then Woods might be even further ahead.

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