When he bogeyed two of the first three holes Saturday, the two-time British Open champion looked like he could be in for a rough time, that his lack of recent competition might cost him in such difficult conditions. But Norman settled down, shooting a 72 to take a two-stroke lead at two-over 212. His putting stroke looked smooth, and his wild shots were few given the befuddling breeze. It was an impressive performance, setting him up, at age 53, to pull off one of the golf's most historic victories. Hard to believe it's the same guy who sounded so disinterested in golf at this year's Senior PGA Championship. But real hardware is on the line here, and he has a real chance to grab it.
When the surprise 2003 British Open champion teed off at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, more than four hours before the final group, he was T-38, eight strokes behind 36-hole leader K.J. Choi. Boosted by an eagle 2 at the third hole when he holed a 9-iron, Curtis shot an even-par 70 to vault to T-5 at seven-over 217, just five behind Norman after 54 holes. It was pretty slick stuff for a golfer who has had only one top-10, a second-place at the Wachovia Championship, on the PGA Tour in 2008. Plenty of golfers have claimed one major; many fewer have won two or more. Curtis did what was required in the third round to give him a legitimate chance at No. 2.
Although there was some carping earlier in the week from a few players about the severity of the sixth, 11th and 16th holes, Open officials didn't do much to the yardage on any of the par 4s. Saturday, though, the R&A moved the tees on the upwind holes to the forward markers on all of them: the sixth from 499 yards to 486; the 11th from 436 to 358; the 16th from 439 to 371. The greens, which were only single cut, also remained playable despite the extreme wind, which caused some unusual club selections. "Any time you're hitting a 5-iron 130 yards when you usually hit it 200 yards, you know it's a tough day," said Sergio Garcia.
Despite the way Duval talked about his high expectations after two strong rounds, it was predictable that Saturday's harsh conditions would take their toll on a player who has struggled so much with his game the last couple of years. He got off to a horrible start, making a triple bogey on No. 1, and made only two pars en route to a front-nine 44. When Duval's week is over, hopefully he will be able to take something positive from his first 36 holes instead of dwelling on his third-round 83 that made him tumble away.
The 2003 U.S. Open champion closed out the front nine with two consecutive birdies to turn in even-par 34, putting himself in great position. But he was erratic on the incoming nine, carding two double bogeys and shooting 43. After a 77, Furyk is nine-over and seven strokes behind the leader. It was a day of what-might-have-been for him.
This year's U.S. Open runner-up had the opposite kind of round from Furyk but also diminished his claret jug hopes. Mediate double bogeyed the first hole en route to a 76 that left him six shots out of the lead. A great round on Sunday will do him wonders, but he will need to re-create some Torrey Pines magic and get some help from others Sunday to have another shot at Open glory.