Five years after Jean Van de Velde's triple bogey on the 72nd hole, Levet surged to a three-stroke lead after six holes, then frittered it away with an even-par 71 Saturday, finishing two strokes behind leader Todd Hamilton.
Levet double bogeyed 11, three-putting from 12 feet, then bogeyed 16, taking two shots to escape a greenside pot bunker.
At least Levet has Sunday to recover.
'It's not like I did a 14 on one hole and blew it,' he said, breaking into a broad smile to match the one that greeted an applauding gallery at the 18th at Royal Troon.
'To be in contention tomorrow, that was my goal at the start of the day and that goal is achieved,' added Levet, who qualified for the Open last weekend by winning the Scottish Open with a final-round 63 at Loch Lomond.
Former champion Ernie Els is one behind the leader, with Masters champion Phil Mickelson and U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen joining Levet two back. Tiger Woods is two more strokes behind.
'When you see the names on the board, it's going to be tough,' Levet said.
Three birdies on the first six holes moved Levet to 9 under and three strokes ahead of the field. But the tougher back nine cost him.
'My big mistake with the three putts from no distance shouldn't happen,' Levet said.
'But the back nine was playing very difficult with a wind that was going on and off. It was dry and wet, and ball was going very different speeds on the green.'
At No. 16, a gusting wind dropped off just as he swung, and his wedge approach found a sheer-faced bunker.
'The bunkers here are scary. They call one of them the coffin,' Levet said. 'Sometime you can't play the pins, you can't play the green, so you have to expect to lose shots in them.'
Levet has been here before as he tries to become the first Frenchman to win the British Open since Arnaud Massy in 1907.
Two years ago at Muirfield, he finished second after losing to Els on the fifth playoff hole.
'I can compete at that level, that's the lesson I learned,' he said. 'I know that even Ernie was nervous on the putt he made for victory.
'I will need good play, a bit of luck and good nerves at the end.'
And no faux pas.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.