Faldo and Pavin lead Open chase Two share top spot at 202

Norman, Langer 1 shot back

July 18, 1993|By Jaime Diaz | Jaime Diaz,New York Times News Service

SANDWICH, England -- On a tense, cotton-mouth afternoon when Royal St. George's was rigged to play at its bone-dry hardest, Nick Faldo switched modes from birdie-maker to par-producer and clung to a share of the lead going into today's final round of the 122nd British Open.

Dogging Faldo's par 70 all the way was a ravenous pack, led by Corey Pavin, who rode two long birdie putts to a 68 that tied the Englishman at 8-under-par 202.

One stroke back were Bernhard Langer, who posted a 70 despite having to take an unplayable lie in a seemingly singular bush amid the sand hills, and Greg Norman, whose less intense demeanor was reflected in a relaxed putting stroke that gained him a 69.

Behind the leading four were a host of players, beginning with Nick Price, who got back into contention with a 67 for 205 to tie with Peter Senior. At 206 were Wayne Grady, whose 64 was the best score by three shots, Ernie Els, who had a 69, and Fred Couples, who had a flat 72. John Daly, 70, and Fuzzy Zoeller, 69, were at 207.

The cast for the climax is as capable as any in recent history. Among the first 11 players, only three -- Pavin, Senior and Els -- never have won a major championship.

Faldo has won five, including three British Opens. And after his record-setting second round of 63, the championship committee decided that the course often considered the most difficult in the British Open rotation had been made too easy by wet conditions. So yesterday, amid the strongest breezes of the championship, the holes were moved to the most diabolical locations on the greens.

"The pins were extremely difficult, set on all kinds of hollows and ridges," Norman said. "Under the pressure of a major championship, it makes you get fairly conservative because if you miss on the short side of the pin, you are going to make bogey."

Those conditions generally play to Faldo, who is known for excelling when grinding out steady pars is at a premium. Also in his favor is his position. On the two other occasions he has been leading after three rounds (in 1990 and 1992) and when he was within one shot (in 1987) he has gone on to win.

But based on his grueling day yesterday, there is nothing to indicate his fourth silver claret jug will come easily. His round began with a spectator intentionally whistling shrilly in his backswing on the first tee (the offender was expelled from the premises) and never got easier. Faldo birdied the 376-yard second hole with a seven-foot putt, but on the difficult 468-yard par-4 fourth, he pulled his drive into deep rough and made his first bogey in 22 holes.

But from there, Faldo made 14 consecutive pars. Although he missed several good birdie opportunities, none were inside of 10 feet. Conversely, he made several par putts of up to that length, notably after missing the green at two par 3s -- the sixth and the 16th -- each time to cling to a share of the lead.

"I played very solid, but had so many putts that were double breakers, and with all the wind they were extremely difficult to read," said Faldo after his round. "I have to sort some things out, but the important thing is, we are there."

Of course, the prideful group of contenders is tired of being beaten by the No. 1 player on the Sony Ranking, and was not ready to concede any advantage.

"He's definitely a threat, but he's not the main threat," said Norman, whose third-round 76 while paired with Faldo in the 1990 championship is still a painful memory. "There are so many guys up there, there's about six principal threats."

Faldo wouldn't be drawn into a war of words, but seemed confidently coy when asked about the psychological effect of his leading.

"Do I still have an edge on the others? That's more a question for them," he said. "Hopefully, I can draw on my experience. If they see my name there, maybe it will divert their attention from what they are doing. It's good to have little tricks up the sleeve."

Paired with Faldo in the final group will be Pavin, known as one of the toughest competitors on the PGA Tour. It will be the first time the 33-year-old winner of 10 official titles has played in the final group in a major championship. Although his game is built around the kind of shot variety and feel that is considered essential to links golf, in eight previous British Opens, Pavin has missed the cut three times and never finished better than eighth.

Pavin kept his third round going by holing a 50-footer for a birdie on the fourth after reaching the green with a 4-wood and a 30-footer for another on the par-3 16th. He showed adequate power by reaching St. George's long par 4s when they played into the wind and displayed the short game that is considered one of the world's best.

"I played really solid, no glaring errors," Pavin said. "I feel like all the cards are in place for me to win my first major. Nick's going to be tough, but I'm going to be tough, too."

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