It's anybody's major to win Sunday at Royal Liverpool
Tiger Woods and Ernie Els cracked open the door Saturday at Royal Liverpool, and a host of challengers barged on in. Woods and Els managed only pedestrian rounds, while Sergio Garcia, Chris DiMarco and many more played brilliantly to set up what should be a scintillating final round.
By T.J. Auclair, Junior Editor
HOYLAKE, England -- A major championship deserves to have a leaderboard scattered with big names. That's exactly what the 135th Open Championship has in place for Sunday's final round at Royal Liverpool Golf Club. It will be a battle of the titans.
Of course, the man on top -- albeit shakily -- is Tiger Woods.
Despite battling a balky putter that saddled him with three three-putts, Woods has a one-shot advantage at 13 under par, but there are 14 players within five shots of his lead, including Sergio Garcia, Chris DiMarco and four major champions.
With an up-and-down birdie on the final hole, Woods shot a 1-under-par 71 beneath overcast skies at Royal Liverpool Golf Club and led Ernie Els, Garcia and DiMarco by a slim shot.
"I think it's a very fair golf course," Woods said. "It's extremely fast. You can play it so many different ways and it lends itself to a bunch of different styles, but ultimately it's fair. It's not tricked up at all. If you hit quality golf shots around this course you're going to give yourself plenty of opportunities. And when you've got four par-5s where you can hit normal drives in play you're going to have irons to ... I think generally when that happens, you're going to see the leaderboard bunch up."
Woods, a 10-time major champion who won at St. Andrews last year, is hoping to become the first man since Tom Watson in 1983 to successfully defend his Open title. He was far from his usual solid self, carding twice as many bogeys over 18 holes (four) as he had through the first 36 (two). Most shocking was that two of them came from short putts that most would consider gimmes for the world's undisputed No. 1 player.
In all, he three-putted three times in one agonizing eight-hole stretch. After shooting a course-record-tying 65 on Friday and feeling confident about all parts of his game, Woods admittedly expected to be sleeping on a comfortable lead heading to the final round.
"If I would have just putted normally, I would have," he said.
Missed shorties on 2, 14 and 17 left a bad taste in his mouth.
Sunday will be the 11th time in his career that Woods has entered the final round of a major holding or sharing the lead. He has won the previous 10.
Jim Furyk and Angel Cabrera were just two shots off the pace at 11 under. Furyk, in search of his second career major, carded a 6-under 66, while Cabrera, looking for his first major, matched him with a 66 of his own.
Els will be in search of his fourth major championship on Sunday -- his last came in the 2002 Open at Muirfield. The South African got off to a rough start on Saturday with a bogey on the first hole, but got the shot back on No. 2 with the first of his four birdies. His tap-in birdie on No. 18 came after his chip from just off the right side of the green nearly dropped into the hole for eagle.
Garcia, who was paired with Furyk, was the hottest player on the course. He shot a 29 on the front, which was one-shot off the nine-hole record at a British Open. Dennis Durnian shot a 28 on the front nine at Royal Birkdale in 1983. Aside from Garcia's, 29 has been shot nine other times in Open history, including twice by Ian Baker-Finch on the front nine at both St. Andrews and Royal Birkdale. This was the first time that number had been carded at Royal Liverpool.
Garcia eventually went on to tie the Royal Liverpool course-record -- set by DiMarco and tied by Woods and Els on Friday -- with a 7-under-par 65, which included an eagle at the second hole, a 436-yard par 4, where he holed a 9-iron from the fairway.
"On 2 I hit a very nice tee shot with my 5-wood and then I had 167 yards, I think, to the hole," Garcia said. "The wind was just off the left, maybe a touch of help, but not much. I just cut it -- cut a nice 9-iron, a good, solid 9-iron there. As soon as it came out it looked really good. I was hoping for it to be the right distance and hopefully have a kick-in birdie. It's always nice when you see it go in like that."
Overall, Garcia was happy with what proved to be the round of the day.
"I was very pleased with the way I played all day long, even though on the back nine I only managed to make one birdie," Garcia said after shooting his best round in a major, topping the 66 he posted in the first round of the 1999 PGA Championship and the final round of the 2004 Masters. "I felt like I struck the ball very nicely, very solid today. I had a lot of very nice shots, controlling my trajectory."
The marquee pairing of the third round featured Els and Woods, the second-round leader. Both players shot 71. Through the first 36 holes, Woods recorded just two bogeys. In the third round he had four. They came on Nos. 2, 7, 14 and 17. He also missed two-foot birdie putt on No. 10.
"I thought I hit the ball great today," said Woods, who is looking to become the 19th player in Open Championship history to win the tournament three times. "Just take away my three putts today, three of them in eight holes, I would have a four-shot lead."
Cabrera, a 36-year-old from Argentina whose best finish in an Open was a tie for fourth at Carnoustie in 1999, had a three-hole stretch of birdie, birdie, eagle starting at No. 14. He was 6 under for his round.
A win here would be extra special for Cabrera. When the Open was last played at Royal Liverpool, the year was 1967 and Argentine Roberto De Vicenzo was the victor.
"It is very special, of course, the last time it was played here it was won by an Argentine," Cabrera said. "At this moment I'm not really thinking about the history, I'm thinking about Cabrera."
Furyk, winner of the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields just outside of Chicago, nearly went shot for shot with Garcia on the way to his 6-under-par 66. Prior to this week, Furyk had missed the cut in the last five British Opens.
"I haven't played real well here in quite a few years," he said. "I haven't seen the pressroom at the Open and I haven't seen the weekend at the Open in a while. I'm happy with my position. I'm happy with my position. I'm happy with the way I played today, especially going out on the first 11 holes at 6 under and I was really in control of my game. So, I'm excited."
The final pairing of Woods and Garcia will tee off at 2:30 local time on Sunday.