Archive for Sunday, July 23, 2006

Woods stays on top, but still far from safe

Several big names within striking distance in today’s final round

July 23, 2006


— His 3-foot birdie putt safely in the hole, Tiger Woods was right where he wanted to be Saturday in the British Open.

His name was atop the leaderboard after three rounds at Royal Liverpool.

And everyone knows the world's No. 1 player has never lost a 54-hole lead in a major championship.

But if Woods had bothered to look at the flags of 34 countries rippling in the gentle breeze above the grandstands on the 18th hole, he might have noticed that none of them was white.

Sergio Garcia wasn't about to surrender, not after a 65 that brought him within one shot of Woods and gave him a spot in the final pairing with a guy he has been chasing for seven years.

Ernie Els played his worst golf of the week while playing with Woods and held his own with a 71, also leaving him one shot behind. He was joined by Chris DiMarco, who shot 68 and then bristled when reminded of Woods' 10-0 record with the lead going into the final round of a major.

"Stats don't lie. Obviously, he's a pretty good front-runner, and usually he's got a five- or six-shot lead," DiMarco said. "Tomorrow, he has a one-shot lead. You would have thought he'd be 4 or 5 under right now, and he's not.

"But the guy has a knack for winning, so it's going to be tough to beat him."

Woods made it tougher on himself by struggling on the greens, three-putting three times over the final eight holes to keep himself from turning this British Open into another runaway. He had to birdie the 18th for a 71 to get into the final pairing and build the slimmest of leads.

And he knew it.

"Just take away my three-putts, I would have a four-shot lead," Woods said.

Instead, he was at 13-under 203 and will be in the final group with Garcia, a 26-year-old Spaniard who now has his best chance ever to capture a major.

Garcia holed out a 9-iron from 167 yards for eagle on No. 2, took only 29 shots on the outward nine and never faded. It will be his first time in the final group of a major since he was four shots behind Woods in the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.

"I did what I had to do to give myself a chance," Garcia said.

Everyone else did just enough to turn this British Open into a wide-open affair.

DiMarco, his fiery emotion replaced by quiet peace as he copes with the July 4 death of his mother, overcame consecutive bogeys at the turn by making three straight birdies. DiMarco, who lost a playoff to Woods at the 2005 Masters, had a chance to join him in the lead until his fairway metal to the 18th green got stuck behind a pot bunker, forcing him to play away from the flag.

"Obviously, you want to beat the best player in the world," DiMarco said. "But there are five or six guys right there that are going to be trying to do the same thing I'm doing."

Els, in the final pairing with Woods at a major for the first time in six years, struggled with his irons but refused to allow himself to fall too far behind. He picked up birdies on the par-5 16th and 18th holes, leaving him in the three-way tie for second at 204.

Another shot back at 11-under 205 was former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk (66) and Angel Cabrera, who also shot 66 and left the gallery wondering if there was something in the tea at Hoylake that suited Argentines.

The last time the British Open came to this links course was in 1967, when Robert De Vicenzo of Argentina held off Jack Nicklaus.

Cabrera really wasn't interested in the peculiar link.

"I'm not really thinking about history, I'm thinking about Cabrera," he said.


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