With skill, sense of drama, Frenchman extends lead

Van de Velde up by 5 in British highlighted by his 70-foot birdie

July 18, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- This isn't supposed to happen at a British Open. Qualifiers from France don't just show up, slam home 70-foot birdie putts and threaten to lap the field.

But yesterday, Jean Van de Velde continued what can only be called a European golf dream, holding his nerve and his lead through the third round of the British Open at windy and treacherous Carnoustie.

Van de Velde, the midway leader, shot a 1-under 70 and emerged at even-par 213 to carry a five-stroke advantage into today's final round.

Was he nervous? No way. Was he surprised to be ahead by five? Absolutely.

But Van de Velde, who has won only one European tour event, sounded pretty realistic about his ability to cope with what will likely be enormous pressure in the last round.

"It's the biggest tournament ever in the world," he said. "I'm a bit ahead of everybody. What can happen? I can lose it, and the other thing is, I can win it. Either way it's going to be, I'm having a good time."

Van de Velde may have some breathing space, but the leader board was crammed with the game's top players.

Tied for second at 5-over 218 are 1997 British Open champion Justin Leonard, who had a steady even-par round, and Australia's Craig Parry, who notched the tournament's lowest round at 4-under 67.

Tiger Woods, who hustled to a 3-over 74, is tied with David Frost and Andrew Coltart at 7-over 220. Greg Norman is at 221.

But the focus was on Van de Velde, as he stood up to Carnoustie, and the field with a round that had equal parts of flair and magic. With the vicious winds dropping, and the greens slowed by overnight rain, Carnoustie finally yielded some birdies.

Van de Velde said he was a pretty good long putter and proved it, rolling in a 70-foot birdie at 14, and a 45-foot birdie at 18 that sent roars echoing through the Scottish countryside. And he had a bunch of saves, with testing 10-foot par putts.

He also got a chance to tell his story, of growing up a golfer even as he dabbled in rugby and soccer, like most athletic French teens. Savoring wine and skiing are among his passions. And he has a subtle brand of humor. Asked about being sponsored at Disneyland in Paris, where he's the head golf pro, Van de Velde joked: "Basically, I have to test all the rides and go around with the characters."

But on the course, he plays with a fire and focus, two ingredients he'll need in the final round to become the first Frenchman to win the British Open since 1907.

"Definitely, it's going to be big," he said of the possibility of win- ning. "It will be a boost for myself, a boost for golf, and people all over the world will realize, `Where is France? I'm going to have a look at the map. Paris, is that in America or France?' "

And he's not intimidated by trying to hold off the world's best.

"Everybody can beat anybody," he said. "That's the beauty of this game. You're out there, you're playing with Mr. Norman or Mr. Woods, and still, at the end of the day, you're going to beat them by one, maybe."

Woods, paired with Norman, didn't have a great third round, but he kept himself in contention, scampering for pars, while absorbing a bogey at the par-4 seventh, and a double bogey-6 on 17.

"I didn't really give myself a whole lot of chances to make up shots," Woods said. "I missed an inordinate amount of greens and had to rely on my short game."

For the third round running, Woods used his driver only once, lamenting a course setup that has taken "the character" and "the gamble" out of Carnoustie.

His goal for the final round is simple: Put up a good score and put the pressure on the leader.

"If I can post a number early, you never know what can happen," he said.

Another player aiming to do the same thing is Leonard, who has come from five shots back the last three times he has won, including the 1997 British Open.

"To have a chance to win the tournament going into Sunday, that was my primary goal at the beginning of the week," he said. "Now I've accomplished that. Hopefully I can go out and accomplish something else."

Also putting himself in contention was Parry, who said his 67 ranked as one of the best rounds he ever played. Coming off the pace might suit his temperament, too. At the 1992 Masters, he carried a lead into the final round, but sputtered and lost.

"The Masters was a long time ago," he said. "When I led the Masters, maybe I was a little bit young, not really knowing what was going to happen on the final day; expectations and everything like that. Hopefully I can just go out there and play my own game. That's really all I've been trying to do the first three days -- just play the golf course."

British Open

The leader... J. Van De Velde 75-68-70213

... and selected followers

Justin Leonard 73-74-71218 Craig Parry 76-75-67218 David Frost 80-69-71220 Andrew Coltart 74-74-72220 Tiger Woods 74-72-74220 Greg Norman 76-70-75221 Angel Cabrera 75-69-77221 Frank Nobilo 76-76-70222 C. Montgomerie 74-76-72222 Bernhard Langer 72-77-73222 M. Angel Martin 74-76-72222 Len Mattiace 73-74-75222 Hal Sutton 73-78-72223 Jesper Parnevik 74-71-78223 Nick Price 77-74-73224 Costantino Rocca 81-69-74224 Ian Woosnam 76-74-74224 Davis Love 74-74-77225 Payne Stewart 79-73-74226 Ernie Els 74-76-76226

Today's final round: 9 a.m., Ch. 2 Complete scores. 13e

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