Brian Watts walked off the 18th green Saturday, the wind whistling in his ears one last time on a day when it refused to let anyone break par in the third round of the British Open.
It carried a message for Watts, the last survivor of par at Royal Birkdale, and for Jim Furyk, who finds himself in contention for the first time in a major.Justin Rose heard the wind, too. The 17-year-old was carried along by the cheers of an ecstatic gallery, wondering if he can become the first British amateur to win the Open since Harold Hilton in 1897.
The cruel conditions, which knocked out Nick Price with an 82 and stymied Tiger Woods with a 77, now have an ally: the Sunday pressure of winning a major championship.
"I've never been in the last group of any major championship, much less the Open," said the 32-year-old Watts, who sal-vaged a 3-over 73 that left him alone in the lead, the only player at even-par 210.
"I felt a lot of pressure from the get-go, ever since yesterday, actually," he said. "I think I handled it pretty well. Obviously, it's going to be tough again tomorrow."
Furyk showed he has the game it takes to win such a tough test of golf. He made 11 pars and a birdie over the last 12 holes for a 72, putting him two strokes back with Jesper Parnevik and Masters champion Mark O'Meara.
"This is the closest I've been to a lead in a major, so I'm looking at all the positive sides," Furyk said. "I have a chance to win my first major, so I'm excited."
Nothing can top the excitement of Rose, who was met with cheers at every turn of an otherwise torturous third round. His 75 put him three strokes back at 213.
"It's going to take a monumental effort, but I'm not predicting anything," Rose said.
Among those trying to chase Watts down - or hope that he passes them going the other direction - are two guys who have been there before: O'Meara, who finished third at Birkdale in 1991; and Parnevik, the Open runner-up in 1994 and last year at Royal Troon.
Parnevik made a 6-footer for bogey on No. 18 for a 2-over 72. "This was all I asked for today, another chance," he said.
O'Meara, trying to become the first player since Nick Faldo in 1990 to win the Masters and the British Open in the same year, played the difficult back nine in 2 under for a 72.
His biggest break came on No. 6, when he presumed his ball was lost. Spectators found it at the last minute, but then a fan put the ball in his pocket. O'Meara was given a free drop and left with a bogey.
"I like my position," O'Meara said. "You've got to have a lot of patience out there."
Carried along by cheers of "Go on, Justin" by Brits who leaned over the ropes to pat him on the back, Rose was tied for the lead at even-par through nine holes until his errant tee shots finally caught up with him.
"I just felt tremendous," said Rose, who doesn't look like he needs to shave yet. "It was amazing how many people knew my name. Obviously, I felt great. But I wasn't uncomfortable with the situation."
Neither was Watts, who earns his keep on the Japanese tour.
Starting the day at 3 under, he finally lost his lead with back-to-back bogeys starting on No. 6, but never lost his composure. He birdied the 498-yard 13th hole, a par 4 that plays downwind, with an approach that stopped 2 feet behind the cup, then got back to even-par with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 17th.
"I can't say I enjoy playing in situations with these winds," he said. "I'm just trying to handle the conditions."
The average score was 77.5 and some of them were shocking. Defending champion Justin Leonard stretched out his arms and smiled when a 12-foot par putt fell on the 18th hole for an 82.
"I'm going to go home and watch TV and laugh at the guys playing," Leonard said.
Indeed, the joke was on anyone still on the course.
"When you've got 82 of world's greatest professionals and nobody breaks par, something is amiss," said Price, who was in the lead until he made bogey or worse on six consecutive holes.
The last time a score over par won the British Open was in 1985, when Sandy Lyle had a 2-over 282 at Royal St. George. That almost certainly will be the case on Sunday unless the wind relents.
"You're upset because your score is so high, but you're happy it's over - the suffering is over," Woods said.
With whitecaps dancing across the Irish Sea and the flagsticks whipping so hard it was a wonder they stayed in the holes, only Costantino Rocca came close to breaking par, until his 20-foot birdie putt stopped an inch short on No. 18. He and Katsuyoshi Tomori were the only players to match par at 70.
Curtis Strange finished his round of 74 and was headed toward the broadcast booth when he was stopped by Butch Harmon, Woods' coach.
"There's a bunch of guys who would love to have that score today," Harmon told him.
He was right, and Woods was one of them.
In contention for the first time since winning the Masters in 1997, Woods lipped out a 70-foot birdie putt and then missed a 5-footer for birdie on the third hole that would have put him in the lead.
He proceeded to bogey the next two holes, then took a double bogey on No. 6 and began his procession down the leaderboard.
He finished at 215, along with John Huston (73), Brad Faxon (74) and Denmark's Thomas Bjorn (76).
Brian Watts 68-69-73-210
Jesper Parnevik 68-72-72-212
Jim Furyk 70-70-72-212
Mark O'Meara 72-68-72-212
a-Justin Rose 72-66-75-213
Thomas Bjorn 68-71-76-215
Tiger Woods 65-73-77-215
Brad Faxon 67-74-74-215
John Huston 65-77-73-215