Rose and Leonard position themselves for shot at crown

Both Justins are just three shots off the lead heading into final round

British Open


July 21, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

GULLANE, Scotland - They teed off more than four hours before the final twosome, and when they finished, the rainstorm that swept through Muirfield yesterday was just starting to blow. Justin Rose and Justin Leonard came in just in time.

"There are so many players between myself and what's leading, I'll have to wait and see what's leading at the end of the day, but conditions will have to get pretty bad," Leonard said. "I don't think we've seen the teeth of the course yet this week, but hopefully the fellows will this afternoon now that I'm in."

Said Rose: "I think by the end of the day, and if [the wind] were to blow and I was just five shots off the lead at most, then I'm still in with a chance. If you are within five shots, you are in a shout. Look, Paul Lawrie won from 11 back at Carnoustie in '99, so it can be done."

Rose and Leonard are not only within shouting distance of the lead, they also are within earshot.

Four shots behind the leaders when they signed their scorecards of 3-under-par 68, Rose and Leonard were both at 2-under 211. When they went to bed last night, they were three strokes behind third-round leader Ernie Els of South Africa.

It means that Rose, a 20-year-old Englishman who finished tied for fourth at Royal Birkdale as an amateur in 1998, will have a chance to win his first British Open today. It also means that Leonard, a 30-year-old Texan, who won the Open at Royal Troon in 1997 after coming into the final round five strokes behind, will have a chance to win his second British.

"I had some good final rounds this year and won a couple of tournaments shooting 65 the last day, so I'd like to go out there and be aggressive on the last day and chase the leaders," said Rose, who has won four times this year, twice on the European Tour.

Said Leonard, who won at Hilton Head this year: "I played well today, especially on the back nine [three birdies]. I gave myself some chances and hit a few more fairways and continued to putt well, so it was fun out there today."

Rose, who played with Tiger Woods the first two days, shot 68 on Thursday and then struggled to make the cut after shooting a 75 on Friday.

"To be honest, I was having to grind to make the cut," said Rose, who made the cut by one shot. "I was still focused and still trying my heart out and realizing how important every shot is. Like today, I shoot a good score in the morning and now the wind blows so you never know how far you are going to be off the lead at the end of the day, so you can never give up."

Rose didn't, and neither did Leonard.

Now they are closer to the lead than even they thought possible.

Els thought both players could have been even closer, perhaps in the lead themselves.

"The guys that were playing in the morning, I mean if they knew what we had this afternoon, I'm sure they would have played harder," Els said laughing.

"If you asked Justin Rose about his 68, he left quite a few shots out there. Some of those guys could be leading right now."

Garcia fortunate

Sergio Garcia of Spain was also among the fortunate to finish before the weather turned bad.

"I feel like I shot at least 5- or 6-under," said Garcia, whose even-par 71 also put him at 2-under 211 for the tournament.

Asked if he would have preferred to be in early at 2-under or still on the course at 4-under with several holes to play, Garcia said, "What do you think? I don't want to be out there, even if I'm 11-under."

Mickelson's struggles

Not only did the world's No. 1 player shoot a 10-over par 81, but the world's No. 2 player managed a 76. In reality, Phil Mickelson's round might have been worse than Woods' since Mickelson played in relatively benign conditions.

"I wouldn't use the word letdown," said Mickelson. "What I'd say is that it's much more frustrating playing like this than being second, third, second and losing that way because at least I had a chance."

Mickelson, who shot an opening round of 3-under 68, is now at 7-over 220 for the tournament, one shot behind Woods.

Smyth still has shot

At one point yesterday, Des Smyth was leading the Open at 4-under. But bogeys on his last two holes caused the 49-year-old Irishmen to fall back to 2-under, tied for third.

"I was cruising along there for a while," said Smyth, who, last year, became the oldest player ever to win a European Tour event. "But I hit a couple of bad shots, and that really caused the bogeys."

Still, Smyth stands a chance to make history today. Should he win the British Open, he would eclipse a 135-year-old record by the legendary Tom Morris, who won in 1867 at age 46. He also would become the oldest major champion in history, passing 48-year old Julius Boros, who won the 1968 PGA Championship.

"You start thinking like that and it affects your whole strategy," said Smyth. "You just don't want to think about it until the optimum moment. If you see an opportunity, you've got to run with it."

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