Spain’s Sergio Garcia heads into the final round of this year’s US Open with a great chance to become the youngest man since Bobby Jones in 1923 to capture America’s oldest national title.
But to do it Garcia, 21, will have to overcome a packed leaderboard that also features Retief Goosen, the popular South African golfer who is a regular on The European Tour and who has held at least a share of the lead since this Championship started.
Goosen, 32, from St Pietersburg, recorded a fine one under par 69 to go into the final round tied for the lead with America’s Stuart Cink on five under par 205.
Garcia, who returned a second successive 68, shares third place with two other Americans, Mark Brooks and Rocco Mediate, on four under par 206 with the ominous figure of Phil Mickelson lurking alone in sixth place on three under par 207 after a 68.
Garcia came to Tulsa in fine form having won the MasterCard Colonial tournament and finishing tied for second behind Tiger Woods at the Memorial at Muirfield Village and he now believes he has a realistic chance of becoming the first European to win the US Open since Tony Jacklin at Hazeltine in 1970.
He is also well aware that a win in this championship would make him just the third Spanish golfer after Seve Ballesteros and José Maria Olazábal to claim one of golf’s four Major titles.
“I hit the ball pretty well today other than for two loose shots on the 12th and 14th and a greedy one on the seventh,” said the Spaniard.
“I’m a bit disappointed that I’m not in the last group tomorrow but I’m still very pleased with the way I am playing and I’d like to think I can do well.”
Goosen was also in a confident mood after a day in which his short game made up for a number of errant longer shots.
“I enjoyed it today and I know that I will also have fun playing alongside Stuart Cink tomorrow," he said.
“I can’t help but feel that the secret for me will be to play each shot at a time. I’m well aware that’s one of golf’s biggest clichés but I do believe that I can’t afford to get ahead of myself. I have never been in this position before but I have no doubt I can cope.”
The Spaniard and the South African were two of a record total of 17 European Tour members who made the cut which fell at six over par 146 but not too many of the others prospered on a day in which the temperatures soared well into the 90s and the greens dried out and became increasingly difficult to hold.
The lowest round of the day from The European Tour contingent came from America’s Bob May who recorded a one under par 69 to end the third round in a share of 18th place alongside Argentina’s Angel Cabrera (72).
Ireland’s Padraig Harrington returned a 71 to claim a share of 23rd place on 214 with Denmark’s Thomas Björn (73) and Australia’s Peter Lonard (70) and Germany’s Bernhard Langer (71) were one shot further back on 215.
Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke maintained his place in the middle of the field with a 71 for a six over par total of 216 but Sweden’s Mathias Grönberg lost ground with a four over par 74 that left him stranded in 44th place on seven over par 217.
Further down the leaderboard, Eduardo Romero (73), and José Coceres (75) and Vijay Singh (74) all shared 53rd place and late in the day they were joined by Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie who stumbled to a disastrous seven over par 77 that ended any chance he had of going one better than his two second place finishes in this championship in 1994 and 1997.
Scotland’s Gary Orr, England’s Nick Faldo and Sweden’s Jesper Parnevik were all languishing two shots further behind on 220 after identical 74s.
Meanwhile, Tiger Woods clung to his outside chance of winning his fifth successive major championship with a 69.
Woods goes into the final round nine shots behind on four over par and will need to go two better than Arnold Palmer who produced the best ever final round comeback in US Open history when he came from seven shots behind Mike Souchak win the 1960 title at Cherry Hills - Woods will need something similar today.
“At the moment I don’t know what sort of deficit I am going to have to make up,” said the World Number One when he came off the course.
“ Sure, I’d like to have been four or five shots lower but I haven’t given up hope. The way I see it, anyone who goes into the last round within ten shots of the lead has a chance when a course is as tough as this.
“Paul Lawrie showed that when he won the British Open at Carnoustie. Johnny Miller also shot through the field with a 63 to win this tournament in 1973 so there’s no reason why I can’t do it too.”