No bend to Watts in Birkdale winds Even-par leads by 2

Woods falls 5 back

July 19, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SOUTHPORT, England -- Brian Watts went unrecognized when he and his wife ate dinner Friday night at a local Chinese restaurant. But his "Q" rating, not to mention his already respectable world ranking, could make a significant move upward if he wins the 127th British Open today.

Watts, a onetime PGA Tour failure who has made a comfortable and somewhat controversial career for himself the past four years on the Asian Tour, maintained his composure and doubled his lead yesterday in the third round at Royal Birkdale.

With two birdies on the back nine, Watts regained the lead he had lost briefly with two straight bogeys on the front nine. His 3-over-par 73 for a total of 210 came on a brutally windy day on which 23 players scored 80 or more and left him as the only player at even par for the tournament.

Watts, 32, who was born in Montreal and grew up in Dallas, leads Masters champion Mark O'Meara, Jim Furyk and two-time British Open runner-up Jesper Parnevik by two shots and 17-year-old British amateur Justin Rose by three.

Four players -- first-round co-leaders Tiger Woods and John Huston, as well as Brad Faxon and Thomas Bjorn -- are five shots behind. Four more, including David Duval, are six shots back. Former champion Nick Price, who started one shot behind, fell out of contention with an 82.

"I felt lots of pressure from the get-go," said Watts, who has won 10 times in five years on the Asian Tour, but was recently fined and suspended by officials there for purposely hitting two balls in the water to miss the cut at a tournament. "Obviously, it will be tough tomorrow."

But Watts said he won't feel the same kind of pressure that Parnevik did last year. Parnevik blew a two-shot lead going into the final round at Royal Troon and lost when Justin Leonard shot a 6-under 65 to win his first major championship.

In fact, Watts said that Parnevik will be the player to beat.

"Actually, Jesper has a little bit of an advantage because he's been in this situation before," said Watts, who missed the cut three times in five previous Opens and has finished no higher than a tie for 40th at St. Andrews in 1995. "He's played very well both times. Justin [Leonard] had a great round last year and Nick [Price] made an eagle at 17 [at Turnberry in 1994]."

Parnevik, 33, who won his first PGA Tour event earlier this year, has been hanging around the periphery since the tournament began. He started the day three shots behind Watts, and briefly found himself tied for the lead. But he bogeyed the 18th hole and Watts followed later with a birdie at the par-5 17th.

Asked if he will think about having been so close to winning the Open before, Parnevik said: "I don't want to think about it actually. When I teed it up Thursday, all I was asking for was another chance, and I'm right here now so I'm very pleased to have been given another chance to win. But this game, you never know what will happen."

But Parnevik knows what won't happen if the prediction of heavy winds to match the 35- to 40-mph gusts that blew yesterday materialize today. He knows that nobody will shoot the kind of round Leonard did last year. There were only 93 birdies yesterday.

Even if Leonard should equal last year's final round, he won't be a factor. A 12-over 82 left the tournament's defending champion at 18-over. The 25-year-old was one of several prominent players watch their scores balloon in the wind, but he was one of the few who maintained a sense of humor about it.

"When I looked at the standard bearer [scoreboard], I hoped that was cumulative," Leonard said jokingly.

And what was he going to do after shooting what he believed was his worst competitive round since high school?

"I'm going to go have some lunch, go watch it on TV and laugh at these guys," Leonard said.

Woods, who started the day one shot behind Watts, made an eight-footer to save par on the par-4 first hole, but then missed a six-footer for birdie on the par-4 third. The 22-year-old former Masters champion then went bogey, double bogey, bogey, three-putting twice.

"It's very difficult because your putter blade is not going back straight; it's wobbling all over the place," said Woods, who made only one birdie in a round of 77. "I don't know how it was for other players, but it was very difficult for me to control my speed."

Woods knows that the five-shot deficit he faces here might not be as difficult as at other tournaments, given the conditions and the fact that only five players are ahead of him. "I'm in pretty good shape," he said. "I've got to go out and post a good number and see what happens."

Of the players within six shots of the lead, only Woods and O'Meara have won majors. But Furyk finished fourth at Augusta this year, two shots behind O'Meara, and was tied for fifth when Leonard won at Royal Troon last year.

Faxon was among the leaders at Turnberry before fading to a seventh-place tie with a final-round 73.

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