- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2003

SANDWICH, England — A high-profile scrum has broken out at Sandwich.

After the most memorable day of play at the majors this year, seven players enter today’s finale at the 132nd British Open separated by a mere two strokes.

Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn has the inside lane for today’s seven-man sprint after a third-round 69 carried him to 1 under, one stroke clear of second-round leader Davis Love III and two clear of an elite quintet positioned at 1 over.

“I don’t think all the expectations are on me,” said the 32-year-old Dane, who reached red numbers with birdies on both of Royal St. George’s reachable front-nine par-5s and then held on with 11 consecutive pars down the layout’s treacherous home stretch. “I think there are a couple of guys around me that people expect to win a major championship constantly.

“Sergio is there with a chance to win his first major, and it’s been a long time for him. Tiger is there. We know that he’s on the trail to one of his major streaks again. He wants to win these majors, and there’s nobody tougher to beat than him. And Davis is out there looking for another one. So there’s some big, big names there.”

Indeed, five of the seven players at 1 over or better are ranked among the world’s top 15, with No.1 Woods (1 over), No.4 Love, No.6 Vijay Singh (1 over), No.8 Kenny Perry (1 over) and No.15 Garcia (1 over) all nipping at Bjorn’s heels. Given such a prestigious pack, Bjorn (No.49) and unranked American Ben Curtis (1 over) would seem to be the odd men out.

“At the Masters in 2001 there were quite a few guys there,” said Woods, who built his third-round 69 by posting a pair of eagles on the 7,106-yard, par-71 links. “There was Phil [Mickelson], Duval, myself, Angel Cabrera, Mark Calcavecchia, there were a few guys within four or five shots of the lead. But we weren’t this close, and there weren’t this many guys.”

Incredibly, St. George’s managed to produce a similar star sandwich in 1993, when then-No.4 Greg Norman closed with a historical 64 to nip the likes of No.2 Bernhard Langer, No.3 Nick Faldo and No.5 Fred Couples. Perhaps the quirky course in Kent has discriminating taste after all. Given yesterday’s staggering succession of events, there’s no denying that Sandwich has a flair for the dramatic.

The first stunner came courtesy of a clerical error, when British hopeful Mark Roe and Swedish oddball Jesper Parnevik were disqualified for signing the wrong scorecards. The pair failed to exchange scorecards on the first tee, the good-natured Roe later teasing that Parnevik’s outrageous aqua pants had thrown him off his first-hole routine. Tragically, Roe had the round of his career — a 67 which would have put him in the mix at 1 over — erased by the error.

“It’s only sport,” said Roe, who took full responsibility for the mistake. “I should probably go out and shed a tear in private, to be honest with you. But at the end of that, when I see my kids, this won’t seem so bad.”

The day’s second dose of mega-drama came from Woods, who followed a conventional eagle at No.4 with an almost inconceivable encore from the bunker at No.7.

“It was a tough bunker shot, because it was close to the back lip. I was trying to get as shallow as I could on my downswing without hitting the lip, and it came out great,” said Woods, who took a steep swing, flipped the ball over the false front edge of the green and then threw both arms heavenward in ecstasy 80 feet later as the ball tumbled home for an eagle.

That unlikely masterstroke temporarily gave Woods the outright lead at 1 under. But just as he has all week, the eight-time major champion stumbled on Sandwich’s more demanding home nine, four back-nine bogeys dragging him back to 1 over.

The day’s final shocker was provided by Garcia, who started slowly before scratching his way to level par through 16. At the par-4 17th, the 23-year-old Spaniard yanked his drive into some of the deepest rough on the course. His first hack in the hay moved the ball less than a foot, and after gouging out nearly 70 yards short of the hole, the charismatic Garcia was left in a position where he could only hope to save bogey. Instead, Garcia punched a wedge that covered more than half of the 70 yards running along the course’s bumps and hollows before plunging into the cup for a miraculous par save.

“This is what we practice for, and it feels great to be up there,” said Garcia, who finally seems to have put his putting woes behind him. “I feel like I can make every putt, and that’s a feeling I haven’t had in some time.”

Such a day will be difficult to equal. But the assembled cast and potential resulting story lines couldn’t be more promising.

Will this be Woods’ first comeback victory in a major?

Does the day hold a long-awaited major breakthrough for Garcia. Or a second coming for the 39-year-old Love, who is in the midst of his best season on Tour?

Will Singh add a third Slam title to his resume, moving him into a different echelon in the golf’s historical pantheon?

Will the Dane defend his lead? Will Curtis pull a major upset of Paul Lawrie proportions?

Or will Perry, easily the hottest player on the planet, continue his mystifying late-career roll. The 42-year-old Kentucky native, who came into the season with four victories, has won three times in his last four starts (Colonial, Memorial and Greater Milwaukee Open), including last week’s GMO. His only winless week since mid-May was a tie for third at the U.S. Open.

“It would be the highlight of my career to bring that jug home,” said Perry after a second consecutive 70 moved him within striking distance of his first major title. “To be at the home of golf where there’s so much history and tradition and for me to have my name on that trophy would mean the world to me.”

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