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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 July, 2004, 17:55 GMT 18:55 UK
Hamilton heads star names
By Rob Hodgetts
BBC Sport at Royal Troon

-8 T Hamilton (US)
-7 E Els (SA)
-6 P Mickelson (US), R Goosen (SA), T Levet (Fra)
-5 B Lane (Eng)
-4 T Woods (US), S Verplank (US)
-3 M Weir (Can), C Montgomerie (Sco), S Kendall (US)
American Todd Hamilton takes a one-shot lead over Ernie Els into Sunday's final round left at the Open at Royal Troon.

The 38-year-old fired a second straight 67 to reach eight under and head a star-studded leaderboard as South Africa's Els carded a 68.

Masters champion Phil Mickelson (68) moved to six under alongside US Open winner Retief Goosen and Thomas Levet.

England's Barry Lane stayed at five under with Tiger Woods one back and Colin Montgomerie on three under.

Hamilton, ranked 56th in the world, began at four under and picked up shots at the fourth, sixth and eighth to go out in 33 before bagging a further birdie at the short 14th to head a leaderboard which included five of the world's top 10.

"I don't know what to feel," the little-known American said.

"I've played so bad for so long, it's very strange to be sitting here. Usually when I'm commenting on my golf it's to my wife and kids, and it's usually in an angry tone.

"I've actually had a very good game plan. My goal this week has been if you can't get way past the bunkers, stay way short of them.

"To be honest I never even considered contending or even too much playing in the majors," added Hamilton, who has played 12 seasons on the Japanese Tour.

"I just tried to improve on my game in Japan, improve on the things I needed to and somehow get to the US Tour.

"I'm kind of glad it worked out like that, having some struggles here and there and fighting back to achieve my dream."

World number two Els edged closer despite dropping back to four under at the 11th, while fourth-ranked Mickelson and sixth-ranked Goosen (68) both closed to within striking distance - the American after negotiating 37 straight holes without a bogey.

I've given myself a fighting chance
Tiger Woods
Els said: "Todd's going to take some beating but there's so much that can happen. Anyone within four has a legitimate chance.

"This is a hell of a leaderboard, quality players who have proven themselves and some new guys that really want to break through."

France's Levet led for much of the third round after reaching nine under at the sixth but fell away with a double-bogey at the tough 11th and a further dropped shot at the more straightforward 16th.

"Even par is not too bad, I'm still in there," he said. "That's a very, very nice feeling.

"I'm not disappointed with my finish. It's more bad luck than anything."

In 1997 Justin Leonard was five behind and he won but he didn't have the support I'm going to have tomorrow
Colin Montgomerie
Woods, the world number one, also carded a 68 to give himself a "fighting chance", as the experienced Lane reached as much as eight under at the 15th before leaking two shots at 17 and one more at 18.

"I'm disappointed with how I finished up," said Lane. "Yesterday I finished 2-3, today I finished 5-5.

"But overall I played very solid, and struck the ball beautifully."

American Scott Verplank handed in a one-under 70 to also get to four under, one stroke clear of Canada's former Masters champion and seventh-ranked Mike Weir (71), local favourite Colin Montgomerie (72), and overnight leader Skip Kendall (75).

Former Troon resident Montgomerie was hoping for another crowd-inspired charge up the leaderboard but it failed to materialise, and when he failed to get up-and-down from off the green at 18 he slipped back to three under overall.

But Montgomerie was adamant that he was not too far away and insisted a closing 65 was very possible.

"You will all remember in 1997 young Justin Leonard was five behind and he won, but he didn't have the support I'm going to have tomorrow.

"I need to get off to a flying start and be two under after four, and if I am and the crowd get behind me, we will see what happens."

England's Lee Westwood was delighted with a three-under 68 to get to two under alongside former champion Nick Price (69) and South Korea's KJ Choi, who fell away with a 74.

Watch third round highlights

Interview: Todd Hamilton

Interview: Ernie Els

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