- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 22, 2001

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England Gentlemen, take your marks.
The 130th British Open has turned into a chaotic 18-hole sprint. When the final round commences today at Lytham & St. Annes, 19 players will tee off within two strokes of the lead the largest such scrum of hopefuls in the history of major championship golf.
"It's wild so many players with a chance," said Sweden's Jesper Parnevik, one of nine players nested at 5 under, one stroke behind leaders David Duval, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam and Alex Cejka. "With so many guys in there, you know going into tomorrow that it's going to take something really, really low to win; I'd guess a 65 or at least a 66… . It's going to be something special, I promise you that."
It's been 15 years since a major featured so many final-round contenders. The 1986 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills had nine players separated by a single stroke with nine holes to play. Raymond Floyd was the last man standing after it ended. There is no player quite so formidable among Lytham's 54-hole heap, but oddsmakers have tabbed Duval the favorite after his blazing third-round performance.
The stolid 29-year-old made his charge from even par yesterday long before midway leader Colin Montgomerie arrived at the course. Duval recorded a clutch par save from a bunker at the first and dropped a 10-footer for birdie at the second. Then he erupted, making his way around the turn and carding a series of kick-away birdies at Nos. 7, 8, 10, 11, 13 and 14 to momentarily reach 7 under.
Despite a dropped stroke at No. 14 after an errant drive, Duval's 65 easily represented the day's best round, putting him in a perfect frame of mind for today's finale.
"The thing that I feel good about right now, that I have not in quite some time, is I know I am putting great again," said Duval, who needed just 25 putts on the 6,905-yard, par-71 layout yesterday. "It is hard to say what will happen tomorrow. I have no idea what the weather will be like. You know, it might require 65 again… . I think I am capable of shooting that score. I just did it."
Well, Nike's No. 2 has never "just done it" in a final round at a major, working himself into Sunday position at each of the last five Grand Slam events only to emerge empty-handed. Understandably, the major-less Duval is rather sensitive about that subject, attempting to rationalize away his failures when the issue came up.
"I think that if you look back, I have been whether you want to say fairly or unfairly criticized for Augusta," said Duval, who missed short putts on Nos. 16 and 18 at the Masters in April that could have at the very least gotten him into a playoff with Tiger Woods. "Whether you want to say I blew it this year or not, I shot the low round of the day still [67]. The other year [1998 at the Masters] I shot 67, apparently I blew it that day, too. I don't think finishing second at something where you have done very well is failing. I think it sends the wrong message."
Montgomerie, who returned to his poor-putting roots during a 73 and slid into the pile one behind the leaders, probably would agree. The 38-year-old Scot tried to earn a masters in rationalization after his round.
"My goal at the start of the week was to get in contention on Sunday, and that is what I have achieved," Monty said. "I am not leading anymore, but it might be beneficial to have that lead away and start in a more relaxed fashion tomorrow."
With so many players bunched so closely at the top, nothing about today's claret jug dash is likely to be relaxing. Knowing that birdies must come early and often in order to keep pace puts enormous pressure from the first tee on every player still in the chase.
"There really will be very little margin for error," said Nick Price (5 under), who with three major titles to his credit is the most decorated dog in the hunt. "The saying has always been that a major championship doesn't start until the back nine on Sunday. Well, with the way this course is set up, with most of the scoring holes on the front nine, that's not going to hold true today. If you want to make it to the back nine with a chance, you are going to have to get well into the red going out."
That theory is likely to be even more credible given the high caliber of the 19 players in question. Including Price, there are five major champions in the group: Langer, Woosnam, Ernie Els (4 under) and Retief Goosen (4 under). And eight of the 19 players are in the top 25 in the world rankings, the most notable among those not already mentioned being No. 6 Sergio Garcia (4 under) and No. 9 Darren Clarke (5 under).
Ironically, one of the few high-profile players missing from today's competitive mix will be Woods (1 under), who toured some of the most remote reaches of the property en route to an opportunity-erasing 73. As was the case in last month's U.S. Open at Southern Hills, Woods not only has too many strokes to make up, he simply has too many quality players in front of him and very little form behind him to harbor any realistic comeback hopes.
That leaves Duval as Uncle Sam's best hope. And in spite of the fact that his mantle holds no majors, Duval has never seemed more confident in his abilities.
"I know I have it in me. I think I have proven it. I have shown it," said Duval, who does have 12 regular Tour titles, a competitive 59 and the world's No. 7 ranking on his resume. "I want to take that trophy home tomorrow."

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