Woods struggles to fire on Brier's day in spotlight

World No 1 falters in tilt at third successive title
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The Independent Online

This was always going to be a big day for golf in Austria. Whether it would even scratch the surface of significance in the life and times of Tiger Woods was another matter.

For Marcus Brier to be playing with the world No 1 for the first time in the third round of the Open Championship was a day to remember for the 39-year-old and all Vienna. For Tiger to be paired with Brier was hardly part of the grand scheme. Should Woods fail to claim a hat-trick of Open wins today, as appears likely, then his chances would have gone on Friday during his second round of 74, and more specifically with that sickeningly crooked opening tee shot into the burn and out of bounds.

But should the Tiger magic by some miracle bring about an improbable third successive victory, for the first time since Peter Thomson managed the feat over 50 years ago, then it will be the final round that will be remembered.

So it was a day on top of the piste for the Austrian contingent, a day chiselling away at the cliff-face as Woods set out to reduce his overnight deficit of seven strokes. A third round of 69 under the grey skies of the Angus coast was a bit like the weather. It threatened more of a storm than was actually unleashed. It got him back to one under par but left him wondering how far the leaders would outpace him later in the day.

Winning from behind in majors is not Tiger's style. Each of his 12 major triumphs have been won from the front after 54 holes. Indeed, each of his three previous Open wins were achieved with him on top of the leaderboard at the halfway stage. "It's the position I've dealt myself," Woods admitted when asked about the ground he still has to make up.

It remains an oddity that he has yet to recover on the final day of a major to win, even though he had the opportunity to do so while right on the shoulder of the leader and playing in the final group at each of the last two majors. Once was forgivable, twice careless.

At the US Open at Oakmont, he made only one birdie in the last 32 holes, which is not major-winning form. His putting saved him yesterday. His ball-striking was an improvement on Friday but Woods didn't create the chances to follow Steve Stricker and Chris DiMarco in going low. He holed a monster putt of 60 feet at the fourth for a birdie, raising the putter in acknowledgement well before the ball dropped, and added two more long putts at the fifth and the seventh.

He also birdied the par-five 14th, about the only chance on the back nine, but his two bogeys were three-putts. "I hung in there," he said. "I've given myself a chance. But it's a major and conditions are going to be difficult. If you are out of position you are going to be penalised."

The long sixth hole was typical of Tiger's current frustrations. The drive was magnificent, flying over the bunkers and defying the headwind. He then unwound from a two-iron second which squirted horribly right only to rebound off the forehead of a 60-year-old woman from Northern Ireland, Jennifer Wilson. "I hit a wide there," Tiger said. "You always feel sick in the pit of your stomach. There was blood everywhere. She was smiling, I don't know how." Tiger presented her with one of his gloves and said he would be seeking out her contact information afterwards.

The ball itself rebounded 10 yards back into play, yet he was unable to take advantage of her discomfort and his good fortune. His pitch just cleared a bunker and he two-putted for his five. Any momentum he had from the two earlier birdies was lost. At the last there was a superb pitch and putt for a par but with the conditions remaining relatively calm for the leaders, his chances of taking the claret jug back to new baby daughter Sam Alexis may require a Paul Lawrie-esque comeback. Who will do the Jean Van de Velde bit?

Brier, meanwhile, birdied the first hole, could have birdied the second, dropped a shot at the third but got it back at the fourth. From there on, he calmly went about collecting 14 consecutive pars, which is a far more impressive feat than it sounds. This is only his fourth appearance in the Open and the second time he has made the cut. Back in his first experience of the Open, he admitted shaking the entire length of the final hole.

An Austrian with no talent for skiing – "we don't have any big mountains in Vienna" – Brier only turned professional at 27, by which time Tiger had won eight majors. Last year he won the Austrian Open for the third time, although it only counted as his first proper win on the European Tour. This year he won in China and the late-developer is helping to popularise the game in his country. "On the course I just play for myself," he said, "then afterwards I think about all the other things that I can do for golf in Austria."

Links golf seems to come naturally to Brier. As an amateur, he and his friends made an annual trip to Britain to play the Open courses. Tiger does something similar, although there has to be claret jug up for grabs to entice him from the family home. Last night it was looking distinctly like good night Vienna for another year.