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104TH US OPEN

Goosen a force in gale

He takes lead on day that was no breeze

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Fairways running at highway speed had already been in place. So, too, toasty brown putting surfaces and green, plush rough, and wispy, golden heather. But the main ingredient for a recipe they love? It had been missing . . . until yesterday.

For the third round, the proud and reckless wind roared forward.

So into reverse went the red scores.

And prepared to perfection was a delicacy the US Golf Association has been salivating over for months. The US Open at windswept, rock-hard, unforgiving Shinnecock Hills. The 104th edition of this national championship took shape in a third round that yielded just three subpar scores and saw five players hold the solo lead.

But whereas you get icing on top of something sweet, onto a test as demanding as this you get something more like a blanket of burlap. "The course has been smiling the last couple of days, showing its nice teeth," said Corey Pavin. "Today, those teeth turned to fangs."

So it was only fitting that the day ended in the fashion it did -- second-round co-leaders Phil Mickelson and Shigeki Maruyama playing putt-putt-putt on the 18th hole to stumble a few rungs on the leaderboard and allow Retief Goosen to assume a two-shot lead.

The unflappable South African posted one of those subpar rounds, a 1-under 69 that pushed him to 5-under 205, two clear of fellow countryman Ernie Els (70) and Mickelson (73), with Fred Funk (72) and Maruyama (74) tied for fourth at 2-under 208.

Completing a trio of quiet South Africans who are in the hunt, Tim Clark went out nearly three hours ahead of the leaders, came within an inch of making a double eagle at the par-5 fifth, shot the day's best score (66), and stormed past 28 players to move into sixth at 209, tied with Jeff Maggert (74). Former Masters champ Mike Weir birdied the par-4 18th to shoot 71--210 and get into eighth.

It all ended that way because of how the drama unfolded at the 18th. Perhaps had Goosen seen Mickelson missing a par-saving attempt from 3 feet to assure a bogey-bogey finish or Maruyama pushing a 2-footer wide to complete a three-putt for double bogey, he may have been reminded of another sloppy putting show at a US Open -- his own.

It was 2001, the 72d green at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., and all Goosen had to do was convert a 2-foot putt to win. He missed to complete a three-putt, was forced into a playoff the next day, and wiped away the Sunday heartache with a triumph over Mark Brooks. This time, the putting hiccups on the 18th green belonged to others; the larger lead belonged to him.

Just one thing: Nothing about Southern Hills reminds Goosen of Shinnecock, not even the fact that he had missed a 4-footer for birdie at the 18th shortly before Mickelson and Maruyama.

"Not as firm as this," said Goosen. "The ball was getting away from us."

And the smiles belonging to those USGA gentlemen were growing wider and wider. So nice of the wind to blow in for a visit.

It was in a steady gale by noon, then up to a more forceful opponent by the time the leaders started their outward nine, which is when it got really wild. Three names graced the top of the leaderboard going out:

* Mickelson, the co-leader at 6 under, stood alone when Maruyama bogeyed the par-3 second.

* Maruyama went back in front when he birdied the fourth and Mickelson bogeyed, halting the lefthander's stretch of 23 bogey-free holes.

* Maggert, starting just one off the lead, birdied the second and fifth to lead at 7 under, the lowest anyone has gone this week. It lasted minutes, or until he bogeyed the sixth and ninth.

By the time Mickelson and Maruyama reached the par-3 seventh, a 189-yard "Redan" that commands fear, the hole had caused havoc. Nothing changed, for the lefthander missed the green short and left, pitched up to the 6-foot range, then three-putted for his first double bogey of the week. Maruyama felt fortunate to make bogey, his first putt going from the front of the green to the back slope off the green.

Fair hole?

"I don't know. You tell me," said Mickelson.

Pushed back, Mickelson and Maruyama had yielded the lead to Goosen, whose birdie at the par-4 10th got him to 5 under. Only the unheralded Funk came along and birdied Nos. 11 and 12 to get to 5 under, alone in the top spot because Goosen bogeyed the par-4 14th.

A windswept leaderboard to go with a windswept course, and it remained that way down the stretch. Funk got knocked back with bogeys on three of his final five holes. Maggert had an incoming 39. Mickelson got into the lead at 5 under with a birdie at the 14th, only to toss it back with bogeys at 17 and 18. Maruyama bogeyed twice early in his back nine, birdied the 16th, then coughed up the double at 18.

All the while, the good friends from South Africa plodded along and got into today's final pairing. A bogey at the 14th for Els was sandwiched between birdies at the 11th and 16th, the first one to reach the clubhouse at 3 under. Goosen would have gotten there at 6 under, only he missed a 4-footer for birdie at the 18th, a little bit of a jolt, but not nearly as painful as the miscues proved to be for Mickelson and Maruyama a few groups later.

Goosen didn't see, but he didn't have to. He had putted the same greens for 18 holes and knew the challenge.

"Rock hard," he said. "Very bumpy and tricky."

Mickelson agreed, but being just two off the lead, the Masters champ was still in good spirits.

"I think this golf course is set up beautifully," said Mickelson. "I didn't hit it well, don't get me wrong, but I felt like I played well."

"I'm very pleased," said Els, a two-time winner of this championship. "But you know, that's as hard as a US Open gets."

In other words, the recipe has been prepared to perfection. Praise the wind.

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