SOUTHPORT, England -- With identical eagle-birdie finishes, Ian Baker-Finch of Australia and Mark O'Meara of the United States separated themselves from a crowded field yesterday to take the lead in the British Open after three rounds.
Baker-Finch, 30, also led the tournament in 1984 after three rounds and was second to Nick Faldo last year at the same point. Yesterday, he made 3s on Royal Birkdale's par-5, 525-yard 17th hole and the 472-yard 18th for a course-record 6-under-par 64 and a 54-hole total of 4-under 206.
O'Meara, 34, who won a European Tour event at Royal Birkdale in 1987, overcame the pain from inflamed rib cartilage to equal Baker-Finch's closing feat for a 67.
The two friends, who live only 1 1/2 miles from each other in Orlando, Fla., will play together today, marking the third time Baker-Finch has played in the final twosome in the championship's closing round.
"I was just a starry-eyed kid in '84 and a little bigger kid in '90," said Baker-Finch, who lost a seven-hole playoff last week at the New England Classic to Bruce Fleisher. "I'm definitely stronger, definitely tougher and definitely more prepared."
O'Meara, whose best finish in the British Open is a tie for third in 1985 at Sandwich, said he almost did not come here this year because of painful spasms from his rib injury and has been taking anti-inflammatory drugs all week.
"Always watch out for the wounded," said O'Meara, who has won six tournaments in 11 years on the PGA Tour, including three times in the seaside conditions of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
"When you are injured, you don't put expectations on yourself and maybe you are more likely to save a few shots. I know I'm going to go off tomorrow if I have to crawl around out there."
One shot behind the two leaders are Mike Harwood of Australia, who birdied four of the last six holes for a 69, and Eamonn Darcy of Ireland, who controlled his distinctive elbows-out backswing to birdie the final two holes for a 66.
"I'm not one of the great players at all; I'm just a grinder," said Harwood, one of the co-leaders after the second round. "But if nobody else wants to win it, and I'm hanging around, I'd be glad to take it."
Alone at 2-under 208 is the gallery favorite, Seve Ballesteros of Spain, who again overcame a slow start and scored a 69. Ballesteros said he was "very confident" in his attempt at winning a fourth British Open.
"I don't think I have to attack," he said. "I think I have to wait for them to fall. I'm not arrogant. I don't think anyone is afraid of me. I think probably they are afraid of the trophy more than me."
Ballesteros added: "I have a very big advantage -- I have the gallery behind me. It's like having 15 clubs in my bag."