Major Tom has ground control

The Open: Faldo six strokes adrift in second place as storming Lehman breaks course record to leave rivals standing
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The Independent Online
Tom Lehman a walking-tall solid-shouldered golfer from Minnesotan farming stock, ploughed through Royal Lytham's reputation for mounting rearguard defences against the world's best with a majestic performance that brought him a course-record round of 64 and a lead in the 125th Open Championship that was looking more solid than Blackpool Tower last night.

There is only one Briton with any realistic chance of catching him and no doubt Mr Lehman, like the rest of us, will remember the last time a man in possession of a massive lead looked back and saw Nick Faldo loping purposely behind him. Greg Norman was six shots ahead going into the final round of the US Masters in April and Faldo famously ran him down and passed him. Lehman's lead is ominously of the same length but it seems to be of a stronger durability. It was at the last hole that he dropped his only shot of the day but his golf had been of a quality to make any doubts churlish.

"You think that lightning might strike twice?" Lehman asked. "This is a different place, a different time. I feel the ball is in my court. It is my tournament to win or my tournament to lose."

Lehman, who would be the first American professional to win The Open at Lytham, does not appear to be a man of slight determination. A devout Christian who marks his ball with a cross, the 37-year-old has travelled a long hard road to reach his present standard and, although he has not won a major, he has been close enough to give the impression of an inner strength that both Faldo and Lytham will have to be at their damnedness to shake.

He feels his disappointment at finishing second to Jose Maria Olazabal in the 1994 US Masters was a strengthening experience. "I came away knowing that I was capable of winning a major," he said last night.

Watching his steadfast progress around Lytham yesterday would not have led anyone to question any part of his golfing composition, especially his immaculate work on the greens. "I would give myself 10 out of 10 for putting," he said. He twitches his shoulders sometimes and rolls his neck to shrug away some tension but never once yesterday did he appear to take his eyes off the target. The head stayed steady under a jammed-on white baseball cap upon which was written the word Dockers - you have to take what sponsorship you can these days - and he looked every inch a winner.

And, although it proved to be unusually vulnerable on Thursday and Friday, Royal Lytham made a valiant attempt on this third day of a long hot Open to retaliate against the men who had been so freely blasting its ancient reputation. The sun continued to work busily at hardening the contours and finally received its first intimation of help from an overdue wind. Human assistance came in the shape of more challenging pin placements.

Men who had gloried in 36 holes of golf with only a couple of hundred bunkers to fret over, suddenly felt a worrying billowing of the trouser legs and had to find less inviting ways of getting close to the flags. The first batch to return told of the harder challenge to be overcome and you had to give the place credit - it did see off a lot of challenges.

Jack Nicklaus saw the shine taken from his tournament with a 77 and he complained about his luck. The joint leader, Paul McGinley, fretted away three shots, as did the redoubtable Corey Pavin. The refreshing challenge of Padraig Harrington suffered a double bogey at the 17th. Paul Broadhurst lost three more shots from the pocketful he had on the first day. Carl Mason and Peter Hedblom saw their chances soar on the first nine and fall cruelly on the homeward run.

"I wanted it to be my day," Nicklaus said. "I felt good this morning, my body felt good ... I warmed up beautifully ... I wasn't nervous. I kept hitting some pretty good shots for the first 11 or 12 holes and ended up not getting anything out of them. When you do that on this golf course, you just get bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey. And that's what I kept doing, making bogeys."

Mark Brooks improved his position by three shots. Vijay Singh and Fred Couples edged themselves to the brink of today's climax. But it took all of Faldo's famed persistence to keep the American in sight. He was helped by Lehman's bogey, at the 18th, to make it feasible. Faldo can see Lehman within a horizon he knows he reached once and believes he can reach again.

He had his third successive 68 realises he needs to go for birdies today. He feels he deserved more yesterday and vowed to take every opportunity today. "I must aim for a 63," Faldo said. "The objective is the same as the Masters, to go out and shoot a great score and see what happens. Being together in the last group again may be a help."

If the wind blows just a little more intently tomorrow, the back nine will once more be the most challenging place on earth. Greg Norman was one of many who discovered its treachery yesterday when his surge to six under par was snatched back from him on the homeward nine holes.

The Australian dropped three shots over the last five holes to find himself at three under, the point from which he had started. Mark McNulty was another who was flattered by an outward 32. He dropped successive shots at the 14th, 15th and 16th to flash a warning to those behind that Lytham was becoming no pushover on the second nine.

There will be a healthy respect when Lehman and Faldo tee-off at the back of the field today. Faldo saw his quarry knock in a 30-footer on the 16th yesterday. "He is playing great," he said. Lehman has no illusions. "Nick Faldo walks with his head held high. He walks as if he is going to kick your butt."

Open diary, page 30

Complete third-round scores

(GB or Irl unless stated)

* denotes amateur

198

T Lehman (US) 67 67 64

204

N Faldo 68 68 68

205

M Brooks (US) 67 70 68

V Singh (Fiji) 69 67 69

206

F Couples (US) 67 70 69

E Els (SA) 68 67 71

207

S Stricker (US) 71 70 66

S Maruyama (Japan) 68 70 69

D Clarke 70 68 69

M McCumber (US) 67 79 71

208

B Faxon (US) 67 73 68

R Mediate (US) 69 70 69

H Tanaka (Japan) 67 71 70

C Mason 68 70 70

L Roberts (US) 67 79 72

M O'Meara (US) 67 69 72

P McGinley 69 65 74

209

D Duval (US) 76 67 66

G Turner (NZ) 72 69 68

D Gilford 71 67 71

P Harrington 68 68 73

210

F Nobilo (NZ) 70 72 68

J Parnevik (Swe) 72 69 69

M McNulty (Zim) 69 71 70

G Norman (Aus) 71 68 71

P Mitchell 71 68 71

C Pavin (US) 70 66 74

P Hedblom (Swe) 70 65 75

211

*T Woods (US) 75 66 70

A Cejka (Ger) 73 67 71

J Maggert (US) 69 70 72

J Furyk (US) 68 71 72

P Broadhurst 65 72 74

212

T Kite (US) 77 66 69

S Ames (Trin) 71 72 69

J Daly (US) 70 73 69

B Barnes 73 70 69

R Chapman 72 70 70

J Sluman (US) 72 70 70

N Price (Zim) 68 73 71

B Crenshaw (US) 73 68 71

M Welch 71 68 73

J Nicklaus (US) 69 66 77

213

E Darcy 73 69 71

J Haas (US) 70 72 71

D Frost (SA) 70 72 71

R Allenby (Aus) 74 68 71

R Boxall 72 70 71

S Lyle 71 69 73

S Simpson (US) 71 69 73

M James 70 68 75

214

B Charles (NZ) 71 72 71

T Tolles (US) 73 70 71

P Stewart (US) 70 73 71

G Law 74 69 71

B Hughes (Aus) 70 69 75

215

D A Weibring (US) 71 72 72

K Eriksson (Swe) 68 75 72

C Strange (US) 71 72 72

P Mickelson (US) 72 71 72

M Jonzon (Swe) 69 73 73

T Hamilton (US) 71 70 74

C Rocca (It) 71 70 74

216

J Payne 72 71 73

R Todd (Can) 74 69 73

B Ogle (Aus) 70 73 73

P Jacobsen (US) 72 70 74

B Mayfair (US) 70 72 74

D A Russell 70 72 74

C Suneson (Sp) 73 69 74

E Romero (Arg) 70 71 75

M Calcavecchia (US) 72 68 76

217

R Goosen (SA) 72 71 74

C Stadler (US) 71 71 75

219

H Clark 72 71 76

220

A Langenaeken (Bel) 72 71 77

D Hospital (Sp) 75 68 77

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