Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2003

Haas, Harrington tied

Woods trails leaders by five strokes

March 30, 2003


— His peers call him the old man. They tease Jay Haas about wearing glasses that sit on the end of his nose when he reads the newspaper.

Those same guys who joke about his age -- 49 -- must have been rubbing their eyes when they saw leaderboards Saturday afternoon at The Players Championship that showed Haas tied for the lead with Padraig Harrington.

One year away from joining the seniors, Haas matched the best score Saturday with a 5-under 67 that left him one round away from the biggest victory of his career.

"You would have to say this would be a pretty good upset against the talent that's out here today," Haas said.

The field looked a lot different when Haas competed in The Players Championship for the first time in 1977, when he shot the same score as Billy Casper and played against four guys who are now retired and working at Sawgrass this week as TV commentators.

"Tomorrow is a huge day for him," Fred Couples said.

Haas capped a string of three birdies by chipping in on No. 12 and ended another wacky day on the TPC at Sawgrass by making par after hitting a fan in the back on the 18th.

The final round might be as unpredictable as his position on the leaderboard.

Sixteen players were separated by five strokes, a group that included Tiger Woods after he birdied the final two holes.

Harrington recovered from a double bogey on No. 7 when he skulled his bunker shot over the green. He finished with seven pars and a 2-under 70 to join Haas at 11-under 205.

"It would be more fun to be in the middle of the pack," Harrington said. "But being in the lead is the ultimate test. It's why we play golf, to go out leading, under the pressure."

No one defined the fickle afternoon better than Craig Perks, who made only two pars after the sixth hole and nearly matched his remarkable finish last year -- except he didn't get a trophy, only a 70.

That put Perks at 9-under 207, along with Davis Love III (70) and Couples (69).

Couples, 43, last year proposed a Major Champions Tour for guys between 35 and 50, saying many of them were too old to compete against the best and not old enough to be eligible for the Champions Tour.

Haas, who doesn't have a major among his nine victories, never liked the concept.

"I felt like if a guy was competitive at 44, why is 45 the number? Why is 50 the number?" he said. "It doesn't matter. I wasn't crazy about the idea. I wouldn't want to play anywhere else. This is the ultimate."

The final round today could be his ultimate test.

This is the first time Haas has had at least a share of the 54-hole lead since the 1996 Disney Classic, which Woods won at age 20.

Woods, as he has done all week, squeezed everything out of his round and stayed in contention with one crucial par after another. None was bigger than the sixth hole, where he hit into the trees and had a 2-foot gap to get out of that mess.

"The way I've been hitting it ... it was more of a challenge today," Woods said. "I just focused a little bit more, beared down and I hit the ball absolutely perfect."

He went through the trees, but over the green and into a bunker, then blasted out to 3 feet and escaped with par.

The birdies were just as important. As bunched up as the field was on a rain-softened course, Woods went from 24th to 12th, that much closer to the lead, but still plenty of work left.

"I'm looking to where I can legitimately get to those guys tomorrow," Woods said. "Two birdies on the last two holes were huge. Hopefully, I can still get there."

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