Woods left on the sidelines

US Open: Third big tournament of the year reaches its climax without the world No 1 landing a blow
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The Independent Online

For a championship that usually tries to bore everyone into submission, as Padraig Harrington articulated earlier in the week, the 103rd US Open was in danger of becoming interesting.

Thursday saw the 53-year-old Tom Watson enjoying a special day with his caddie Bruce Edwards, who is suffering from the degenerative disease ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known in the UK as motor neuron disease). On Friday, Vijay Singh scored the 21st round of 63 in a major championship to tie Jim Furyk for the halfway lead on seven under par.

And Tiger Woods was three strokes behind and ominously announcing that he was "right where I need to be".

But the world No 1 did not remain there very long. Woods needs to retain his crown here to avoid leaving town without a major title to his name. But in yesterday's third round he was unsettled as early as his second shot when a spectator whistled on his backswing.

It might have been expected from the trains rattling by to the left of the first fairway but Tiger immediately swung to his right and glared at the miscreant. His ball was pushed into a bunker and though he pitched on to the green for three he failed to make an opening birdie on the par five.

Woods had taken a three-wood off the tee, while Eduardo Romero, his playing partner who will be 49 next month, walloped a driver and made the green in two. Tiger continued his cautious approach but failed to make a birdie on the front nine. He went over the green at the fifth and failed to get up and down, three-putted for a par at the sixth and did the same for a bogey at the ninth.

After dropping two more shots at the 10th and the 13th, Woods finally holed a long putt for a birdie at the 14th but immediately missed a six-footer for par at the next to drop back to level par, before dropping a further shot on the 16th. Perhaps Tiger's only hope is to come out all guns blazing today - he seemed to hit more fairways playing aggressively on Friday - but it is curious that in the three biggest events of the years so far, here, the Masters and the Players, he has been far from his best.

Singh and Furyk both picked up their second birdies of the day at the sixth to move to nine under. Furyk then claimed a three at the ninth to become only the third player ever to reach 10 under in a US Open, and the first not at Pebble Beach. A bogey at the next, however, quickly dropped him back again.

Nick Price had got to nine under in a blistering start before dropping back almost as quickly. The 46-year-old three-time major champion birdied the first four holes with some brilliant approach play. He saved par from a bunker at the fifth and two-putted for another birdie at the par-five sixth.

But he was buried under the lip of a bunker at the seventh to drop his first shot and further bogeys arrived due to poor driving at the ninth, 11th and 12th holes. Watson, playing with Price, could not maintain his challenge as others like Dicky Pride, with a 66 for four under, moved up as the wind strengthened.

Darren Clarke, starting at one under, felt he had an opportunity to move into contention but had only one par in the first eight holes and finished with two bogeys to be one over. "Once again I haven't taken my chances," he said.

Considering Justin Rose, also one over after a 70, was not happy with his swing at all at the start of the week, his debut in the US Open has again shown the 22-year-old's battling qualities. "The swing is beginning to feel better," he said. "I don't panic any more when it doesn't feel right and that is half the battle. My aim was to finish under par and if I only do it on Sunday evening, that is the best time."

Singh's round of 63 on Friday was only the fourth such score in the US Open, following Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, and matched his own effort in the US PGA at Inverness in 1993. But there was no escaping the fact that the 40-year-old Fijian is a controversial figure following his comments about Annika Sorenstam playing in the Colonial tournament last month. Singh was reported as saying he hoped the Swede missed the cut and that had he been drawn with her he would have withdrawn.

Having won the Byron Nelson Championship amid the furore on the eve of the Colonial he pulled out of the tournament anyway. Singh attempted to clarify his remarks but that has been deemed by much of the media here to be an apology for an apology. As he came up to the 14th green on Friday, having hit an eight-iron to four feet, one spectator suggested that Annika could have done better.

The matter might have rested there - no obscenities were involved - but for Singh's caddie, Dave Renwick, making a response to which the man suggested he say it a bit nearer. The spectator was escorted out. "I didn't know there was anything," Singh said. "I hit a good tee shot, an eight-iron, made the putt and went to the next hole." Asked about waving his club, which appeared to be in the direction of the heckler, Singh said: "I was waving to my caddie."

Singh added: "I focus on what I do and that's playing the golf course and golf tournaments. I don't read too many newspapers. I just don't let things bother me. I focus on what I'm doing and let everything else take care of itself."