Woods stands one round from victory in Dubai

Posted: Sunday, March 04, 2001

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- After two straight rounds of peerless golf, Tiger Woods proved he can botch short putts like any weekend hacker.

But despite his first bogey of the tournament -- and a stretch in which he bogeyed three of five holes -- he enters the last round of the Dubai Desert Classic with a one-stroke lead as he pursues his first victory of the year.

Woods, who had 64s in the opening two rounds, ''squirreled'' his way to a 4-under-par 68 Saturday. He is a stroke ahead of playing partner Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, who shot a 67.

Now Woods is closing in on victory after going 0-for-5 this season in U.S. tour events.

But he looked all too human at times on this manicured desert course -- especially on the 10th hole and facing a 3-foot putt.

''The first putt I pulled,'' he said. ''The second I shoved, and the third putt I thought I hit pretty good. It went right in the middle -- granted, it was only 6 inches.''

The three bogeys were his only ones in three rounds. Only birdies on Nos. 15, 17 and 18 kept him in the lead on a summery day in this commercial and tourist center on the Persian Gulf.

A tournament that once looked like a two-man show with Woods and Bjorn is now a real chase.

Padraig Harrington of Ireland was three strokes behind at 199 after a 64. Jeev Milkha Singh of India shot 67 and is at 200. Four others were five strokes behind Woods: Ian Woosnam of Wales (64), Angel Cabrera of Argentina (65), Paul McGinley of Ireland (65) and Brian Davis of England (65).

Woods trailed Bjorn by one stroke after 12 holes when he picked up this third bogey, missing a par putt from 8 feet.

''It wasn't one of my easier rounds of golf,'' Woods said.

Said Bjorn: ''That's just goes to show the guy is human. But he also showed his world class coming down the last four holes where he birdied three to get the lead.''

Woods birdied the par-3 15th with a 12-footer. He then crackled the desert air by driving the 351-yard 17th, narrowly missing a 15-footer for an eagle.

''I just threw it up in the air and let the wind just take it from me,'' Woods said. ''It rode the jetstream and got there. I hit a good putt but just didn't hit it hard enough.''

He got his final birdie on the 547-yard 18th.

''I was pretty proud the way I came back,'' Woods said. ''I made a couple of birdies coming home. That's what you have to be able to do sometimes. The game of golf is very fickle. You have to keep hanging in there and grinding it out.''

Harrington says it is telling that Woods was troubled by a round in which he shot 68.

''That shows the incredible standard he is at,'' he said.

Bjorn, who trailed by two after Friday, called his driving ''some of the best in a round I have ever had.''

Bjorn has probably played with Woods more than any European, and he's learned to adjust to the frenzy that goes with it. He said the worst experience he ever had playing with Woods came in last year's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Woods shot a 71 into stiff wind and hard greens. Bjorn had an 82.

''I didn't play very well and we know how well he played,'' Bjorn said. ''I went home thinking: 'You've got to learn to do it. You've got to learn to play with the guy if you're going to beat him.'''

Genuity Championship

MIAMI -- Mike Weir hardly needed a reminder, but when he reached into his bag for a 5-iron on the 18th hole Saturday, he knew this wasn't the same Blue Monster that had been a pushover the first two rounds of the Genuity Championship. Just two days ago, he hit wedge into the closing hole.

The only thing that didn't change was the result. Weir rifled his approach through a stiff wind into 5 feet for birdie and a hard-earned 69, enough for a one-stroke lead over Hal Sutton going into the final round at Doral.

''I knew anything under par would have been pretty good,'' Weir said after a blustery, hot afternoon.

Sutton missed a couple of good chances down the stretch but still had a 70, and few complaints. He, too, saw palm trees swaying, felt his pant legs whipping in the wind and realized Saturday would be about survival.

''That was pretty much my mindset,'' Sutton said.

Weir, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour but never in America, was at 15-under 201 and will be in good company Sunday.

The other member of their threesome is Davis Love III, who birdied the 18th for a 69 and was just three strokes back, along with Jeff Sluman. Love will be playing in the final group for the third straight tournament.

''It's not a bad position to be in,'' Love said of his 204. ''It's not the best one, but it's not bad. I've got a chance.''

The great finish complemented a perfect start for Weir, who holed a 40-foot putt for eagle on the first hole using his 5-wood to immediately erase a two-stroke deficit. From there, it was a matter of hanging on.

''It felt like a little bit of survival out there,'' Weir said.

Doral played over par for the first time this week, and only 17 players broke 70.

''That's what you expect here in the afternoon,'' Love said. ''I think we had gotten a reprieve. It was a tough day.''

Sluman made a 12-foot par putt on the 18th for his 69 to join Love at 204. Sluman has as much at stake as anyone in the final round, since Monday is the cutoff to set the field for the Masters. Sluman can get in with a victory.

Stewart Cink recovered from a disastrous start and had a chance to pull within one shot of the lead until he hit into the water on the 18th and took a double bogey. He started the day with a two-stroke lead but had a 75 and was four strokes back, along with Joe Durant.

With flags and pant legs snapping in gusts up to 20 mph, the Blue Monster finally lived up to its reputation.

Starting the day two strokes behind, Weir caught up quickly with his third eagle in as many days. His ball sitting up in the fluffy first cut of rough behind the first green, he putted with his 5-wood and rolled in the 40-footer.

The rest of the front nine was solid pars, and then the fun began.

Weir and Sutton matched birdies and appeared to turn the $4.5 million tournament into a two-man race. But as the hot, blustery afternoon wore on, confusion over club selection set in and the greens became a much smaller target.

Weir saved par from a tough lie in the rough behind the 13th green, able to see only the top of the flag. But he missed the next two greens -- long, then short -- and dropped shots on both of them.

So did Sutton, playing in the group behind him. He caught the bunker on No. 13, hit short on the next hole and patched his round together with a good bunker save on No. 15.

Defending champion Jim Furyk and Masters champ Vijay Singh narrowly made the cut, then soared on the leaderboard by posting 66s, the best score of the day, before the wind picked up. Both moved from a tie for 62nd to a tie for seventh, in a large group at 207.

Anything is possible Sunday. A year ago, Furyk made up six strokes on the final seven holes to win Doral.

For players like Cink, Robert Allenby and Greg Chalmers, there was no escape.

Cink lost his lead on the second hole. From a fairway bunker, he hit out 40 yards short of the green and had to two-putt from 50 feet on the fringe just to make bogey. He also missed the third green to the left, chopped out of the gnarly Bermuda rough to 10 feet and missed the par putt.

Allenby and Chalmers got within two strokes of the lead until they got blown away with a 40 on the front nine. Allenby finished with a double bogey on the par-3 ninth, while Chalmers closed out his front with five bogeys on the last six holes -- the one par was a three-putt from 12 feet on the 528-yard eighth hole.

What looked like it might be a two-man race between Sutton and Weir could now be a shootout, especially since everyone likely will play in the same conditions. Because of storms in the forecast, Sunday's starting times have been moved up four hours in threesomes, meaning the last group will go off at 9:30 a.m.

Divots: David Duval is off to his worse start in five years, and it isn't getting any better in Florida. Back-to-back double bogeys on the back led to a 5-over 77, his worst score since a 77 in the third round of the BellSouth Classic last year. ... Durant is playing Doral for the first time in four years. ''It was so hard in 1997, I didn't want to come back,'' he said of the controversial re-design by Raymond Floyd. ''But the guys told me they had gone back to the way the course used to be. It's a lot more fair.''



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