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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 July 2007, 19:00 GMT 20:00 UK
Garcia closes in on Open triumph

THIRD ROUND LEADERBOARD:
-9 Sergio Garcia (Spa)
-6 Steve Stricker (US)
-3 KJ Choi (Kor), Ernie Els (SA), Padraig Harrington (Irl), Stewart Cink (US), Paul McGinley (Irl), Chris DiMarco (US), Paul Broadhurst (Eng)

By Matt Slater
BBC Sport at Carnoustie

Sergio Garcia
Garcia fired three birdies and no bogeys in his third-round 68
Sergio Garcia took a giant step towards his first major title with a wonderfully controlled display of links golf at Carnoustie on Saturday.

The 27-year-old Spaniard, who is nine under for 54 holes, carded a bogey-free 68 to stretch his two-shot overnight lead to three with just 18 holes to play.

"El Nino" has now played 26 holes without dropping a shot, no small achievement at a course that reduced him to tears as a 19-year-old in 1999. That year he went 89-83 to crash out of the tournament on 30 over. This is some comeback.

Should he maintain his magical form - and retain the luck that saw him knock a photographer off his feet at the 17th but still save par - he will become only the seventh man to win the Open after leading outright every round.

"It's great to be leading," he told the BBC. "I had birdie chances coming in but I am not going to be greedy.

"The support I got was amazing. I had goose bumps on the last. They were cheering and I just wanted to make that putt so badly for them."

Paul Lawrie came from 10 back in '99. You can do it around this golf course

Tiger Woods

He did not - though his approach deserved it - but in this form it might not matter. For his supporters, and there are many, a victory here will be richly-deserved and long overdue.

Garcia's ability was first seen on the big stage when he gave Tiger Woods a huge scare at the 1999 USPGA - only a month after his Carnoustie calamity. Majors seemed to be his for the taking: we have been waiting ever since.

Time and time again, the Ryder Cup maestro has either left himself too much to do on the final day or crumbled under pressure - last year's Tiger-inspired meltdown at Hoylake being the most memorable.

Perhaps the best driver of a golf ball in the world, Garcia has never had many problems creating birdie chances. Converting them has been a different story.

Here, however, the 1998 Amateur champion has been Tiger-like on the greens, averaging just over 29 raps a round with his new belly putter.

Tiger Woods
Woods struggled on day three but still managed a 69

Twenty-nine more on Sunday and it is difficult to see anybody catching him.

"I just have to do the same things on the final day and stick to the game plan," he said. "The way I have been playing I am ready to win. Hopefully what I do tomorrow will be enough."

His closest challenger is Steve Stricker. The 40-year-old is enjoying a remarkable renaissance. The PGA Tour Comeback Player of the Year in 2006, he fired a course-record equalling 64 to storm up the leaderboard.

His efforts will certainly provide hope for the gaggle of players tied for third on three under - American Ryder Cuppers Chris DiMarco and Stewart Cink, England's Paul Broadhurst, former champion Ernie Els, Korean KJ Choi and the Irish duo Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley.

Broadhurst and Els came home with excellent 31s after making pig's ears of the 6th - a seven and an eight respectively - while DiMarco looked comfortable as he compiled a 66.

These seven are one shot clear of five more players on two under - Spain's other challenger Miguel Angel Jimenez, Argentine Andres Romero, American Jim Furyk, Canada's Mike Weir and Fijian Vijay Singh.

606: DEBATE
SG

It was Singh who persuaded Garcia to try the longer putter. Garcia owes that man a drink.

But what of Woods? The defending champion, so often Garcia's nemesis, is in a share of 15th on one under, eight shots back - completely out of it for most men, but the world number one is not most men.

"I gave myself a chance for tomorrow," the 31-year-old American said after his two-under 69. "Paul Lawrie came from 10 back in '99. You can do it around this golf course."

You can, but only if the frontrunners get the frights. And while it would be foolish to write off Woods' chances, no matter how remote, he has not looked entirely himself this week.

Another aiming for a Lawrie-like charge will be England's Justin Rose, who carded a 67 to join the group on one under. His compatriots Paul Casey and Nick Dougherty also improved their positions, but at one over they are really chasing a top-10 finish at best.

Ian Poulter almost played himself into contention early on, only to implode from the 15th. He is now 12 back. Others to go south on Saturday were South African Retief Goosen and England's Lee Westwood, both now 10 off the lead.

Goosen, Poulter, Westwood and others in the middle of the pack still have plenty to play for, just not the Claret Jug and 750,000 winner's cheque.

Those are now Garcia's to lose. There is no shortage of excellent players in position to take advantage if the man from Borriol's putter goes wobbly again.

But everything we have seen so far this week suggests he is about to end Europe's eight-year major drought and become the 2007 Open champion. How ironic that it should come at Carnoustie, the course that made him cry.

SEE ALSO
Sergio on the brink
21 Jul 07 |  Golf
Open quotes of the day
21 Jul 07 |  Golf
The Open day three photos
21 Jul 07 |  Golf
Open Diary
21 Jul 07 |  Golf


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