Woods hangs onto Open lead

June 15, 2002 at 9:03 PM
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FARMINGDALE, N.Y., June 15 (UPI) -- An all-star cast of international golf did its best to put the heat on Tiger Woods during the third round of the U.S. Open Saturday only to find his lead at the end of a noisy and dramatic afternoon was larger than at the start of it.

Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson, Jeff Maggert and even 44-year-old Nick Faldo made up ground on the world's best player, but the distance between first and second place grew from three shots to four.

Woods shot an even-par 70 at the Bethpage Black course and did not make a birdie until the 15th hole. Nevertheless, he did little to slow down a charge to what would be his second consecutive major championship and the eighth of his already historic career. Not since Jack Nicklaus did so in 1972 has a player won the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year and only three others -- Craig Wood in 1941, Ben Hogan in 1951 and 1953 and Arnold Palmer in 1960 -- have ever done so.

"Even though I was over par for most of the day, I still had the lead," Woods said. "They had to come to me. Like I said yesterday, it's not over yet. There was no award presentation today. I have to go out and play 18 holes and it will be a fun prospect."

The third round took place in an atmosphere more suited to a World Series game than a golf tournament and in the late stages of another gloomy day on Long Island, Woods saw his lead cut to two shots. But he rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt at the 15th and a 12-footer at the 17th to stretch his advantage.

He finished 54 holes at 5-under 205 and the only other player under par was Garcia, who endured catcalls and jeers throughout the day to earn the opportunity to be paired with Woods in the final group on Sunday.

Garcia shot 3-under 67, one of 13 sub-par rounds fired Saturday on the longest course in U.S. Open history, for a 1-under total of 209.

Another shot back were Phil Mickelson, who shot 67, and Jeff Maggert, who had a 68. Early in the third round, Mickelson found himself 10 shots behind Woods. But Mickelson played an 11-hole stretch in 6-under and as he walked off the 17th green, having just made a 20-foot, downhill, curling birdie putt to the almost deafening roar of the crowd, he was just two strokes off the lead.

Mickelson, however, bogeyed the final hole and Woods made his two late birdies to increase the margin.

Tied for fifth place at 1-over 211 were Robert Allenby, Billy Mayfair and Padraig Harrington, who was paired with Woods Saturday and started out three shots behind but who did well to shoot a 73 while missing fairway after fairway.

Faldo, playing in his 60th consecutive major championship on a special exemption from the United States Golf Association, shot the low round of the tournament -- a 4-under 66. A winner of six major titles, but never a U.S. Open, Faldo was tied at 212 with Justin Leonard, Tom Byrum, Scott McCarron and Davis Love III.

"That was as good as my heyday, it really was," Faldo said. "I'd love to just keep walking to the first tee right now and keep playing. I missed one fairway and one green and that is something else."

After the day-long rains of Saturday, the hilly, rough-infested course was more susceptible to low scores -- thanks in part to a few tees being moved forward and some pins being placed in easier positions. Woods, however, had to put on a late rush just to manage a 70.

He did not hit a fairway until the fifth hole and wound up with a bogey on that one, missing an eight-foot par putt. Unable to get the ball close to the hole for most of the day, he was consistently faced with long putts and had to make a nine-footer to save par on the eighth en route to a 1-over 36 on the front nine.

He bogeyed the 10th as well and then, after reaching the par-5 13th in two, three-putted for the first time in the tournament. His two late birdies, however, salvaged a decent score.

"I fought my rear off today," Woods said. "I didn't hit the ball that well. But I hung around. This is the U.S. Open and you have to fight all the way around."

On that trip around the Bethpage Black layout, the thousands of fans were cheering every move made by the stars of the game -- especially Woods. He once had to back away from a tee shot when a spectator took his picture and the constant noise tested the players' patience.

"I've never heard anything like it," Woods said. "Not for 18 holes."

With Woods and Garcia playing together on Sunday, and with Garcia having been made the target of the more boistrous fans this week, the closing round could be unlike any seen in the 102 history of the tournament.

"It will be a tough round for both of us," Woods said. "We will have to be focused and take care of business."

While Woods was trying to find a groove on the course, good scores were being posted in front of him.

One of them came from Garcia, who birdied five holes and missed a five-foot birdie chance at the par-5 13th. After his round Friday, Garcia said that comments from some of the fans were over the line. That was all it took for many in the crowd Saturday to add their opinions. There was an incident on almost every hole, especially when Garcia went through his routine of re-gripping the club as many as 20 times before taking the club back.

"Hit the ball," one gallery member yelled as Garcia stood over the ball.

Garcia, however, tried to work it to his advantage.

"Actually, I think it was great," Garcia said of his interaction with the crowd. "It was the best thing that could have happened to me. It made me more mature today. I have to thank them.

"I could handle anything. I didn't like it when people said bad things about Martina (girlfriend and tennis star Martina Hingis) and my parents. But I will be all right."

Garcia said he had hoped to be able to play in the final group Sunday.

"I can't wait to get it started," he said. "I hope I can play as good a I did today. We'll see how it goes, but I think I have a chance to win."

"It's a shame the fans were that way to Sergio," Woods said. "There is nothing wrong with being enthusiastic, just as long as they are respectful."

The fact that Woods and Garcia will play together Sunday is something of an irony since Garcia complained on Friday that if Woods had been on the course when the worst of the rains were falling, the United States Golf Association would probably have called off the round.

Garcia later said that comment was made in frustration and also said he apologized to Woods in the form of a note he left in Woods' locker.

There was only one player within six shots of Woods beginning Saturday's round and even though he increased his lead over the second-place finisher, there will be six players within six shots of him starting Sunday. Woods has had the 54-hole lead in seven major championships and he has won them all.

But a truly great round from the likes of Garcia, Mickelson or Maggert could allow them to overtake Woods if he slips.

Mickelson seemed capable of such a round after making seven birdies Saturday.

"Early in the round (after three bogeys in the first four holes), I wasn't thinking about winning the tournament or getting into position to win," Mickelson said. "I just wanted to hit some good shots. I hit it close at the sixth and missed that. But when I birdied the seventh, it seemed to change the momentum because I birdied three holes in a row."

Mickelson has finished in the top four on seven occasions in major championships, the best record of anyone in golf history not to have won a major.

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