-- The wind came up, and down went Tiger Woods's chance for a ninth major championship Saturday in the third round of the 104th U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. Still, on a day of flag-flapping breezes, bizarre bounces and weird occurrences at the nasty seventh hole, Phil Mickelson kept hope very much alive for a second straight major title, finishing two shots behind leader Retief Goosen of South Africa.
Goosen, the 2001 Open champion, had one of only three sub-par rounds posted by the 66 players in the field. His 69 would have been even better if not for a missed four-foot birdie putt at the 18th hole, but his three-day total of 5-under 205 pushed him to a two-shot lead over Mickelson (73-207) and his South African countryman, Ernie Els (70).
"I felt comfortable out there today," Goosen said, "actually quite calm for an Open championship. I would think that under par will win it, but that all depends on how the weather will be on Sunday. If it's blowing again and getting tricky, who knows what the winning score will be?"
As the course finally bared its teeth after two calm days, Woods struggled from the start. He made sloppy bogeys on two of his first three holes, his first double bogey of the week at the 10th and another bogey at 17, seemingly on his way to a 75.
But with one wonderful wedge shot from 89 yards, Woods holed out for a stunning eagle at the 18th hole, and was so giddy, he even carried his bag halfway up the hill before plucking his ball out of the hole for a third-round 73 and a three-day total of 4-over 214.
Woods refused to count himself out as he attempts to end a run of seven straight majors without a victory, insisting afterward that "if the wind blows and I play a great round of golf, I can still win this tournament. If the wind blows harder tomorrow [Sunday], which the forecast is supposed to be, you never know."
But Woods will start nine shots behind Goosen, who pushed to 5 under when he made a six-foot birdie putt at the 540-yard 16th hole and parred in. Mickelson, meanwhile, finished with back-to-back bogeys, even as he was again feeling the love from five-deep crowds who high-fived him as he walked from green to tee and let loose a constant stream of vocal encouragement from behind the restraining ropes.
There were major groans as well when Mickelson made a double bogey at the dangerous and borderline unfair 189-yard seventh hole, where the landing area around the pin seems smaller than a Manhattan manhole cover and the green slopes away from the hole like an inverted salad bowl.
There was only one birdie on the seventh, with 27 bogeys and three double bogeys recorded. The hole was ranked the hardest on the course for a third straight day, and only 27 percent of the field managed to hit the green in regulation. U.S. Golf Association Championship Committee Chairman Walter Driver said the grounds crew had been instructed not to roll the green, "but some poor guy rolled it today when he shouldn't have. This was not inadvertent. We were not asleep at the switch."
That was hardly a comfort to Mickelson, whose tee shot rolled off the putting surface toward the back of the green, but he chipped 10 feet past the hole. His par attempt, which he said later he had simply lagged toward the cup hoping to stop it a foot short, was not that far off. But as the ball passed the pin, it simply wouldn't stop, rolling and rolling and rolling some more until it finally came to rest 30 feet from the cup.
Mickelson missed that putt and finally made a tap-in for a 5 that took him out of the lead and dropped him to 4 under for the day.
Mickelson shared the lead at 5 under with Goosen after his 16th hole, until those final two bogeys spoiled the Masters champion's round. At the 179-yard 17th, Mickelson was unable to get up and down after a shot into a greenside bunker left him with a 10-foot par putt. And at the 450-yard 18th, he three-putted from about 40 feet, missing his own four-footer for par that would have left him a shot closer to Goosen.
Still, Mickelson admitted that, despite the degree of difficulty of the course, "I love the setup. I'm really enjoying this," he said. "I know I'm grinding out there and it's very difficult to make pars, and I'm looking at holes wondering how in the world I'm going to get it anywhere near the pin.
"But it's a fun challenge."
Fred Funk, the 48-year-old former University of Maryland golf coach, also was still in contention, despite making bogeys on two of his last three holes. Funk finished with a 72 and a 2-under total of 208, and at one point, after his 12th hole, 20-foot birdie putt, was actually leading the tournament by a shot.
Goosen struggled in the middle of his back nine with bogeys at the 13th and 14th that took him to 3 under for the tournament. But birdies on two of his last four holes pushed him back to the top of the board, and also earned him a fourth-round pairing with Els, who birdied the 16th and parred in for 70 and a tie for second place with Mickelson at 3-under 207.
Japan's Shigeki Maruyama, the 18- and 36-hole co-leader, was tied with Funk in fourth place after he made double bogey at the 18th. And Jeff Maggert, who was at 7 under after his first five holes, played his last 13 in 6 over, coming in with a 74-201. He and South African Tim Clark, with the day's best round of 66, were the last of only seven players to be under par for the tournament.
"It was a tough day," said Els, who finished second to Mickelson at the Masters in April. "The greens were borderline. They were getting away from us. . . . The greens have to be a little bit receptive. You have to hit good shots, because [the seventh green] slopes right to left and away from you. Where they put the flag and the way the green was playing, you had no chance."
Els believes he has as solid a chance as anyone to leave Long Island with his third Open title.
"I've got a good chance," he said. "I've got to play my game and play as good as I can. I'd just like to be in the chase, and watch out for me. I'm feeling good, and that's all I can say."