Tiger back in a familiar position

Posted: Sunday, March 18, 2001

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Tiger Woods stood alone on the 17th tee box, glaring at the ground after making the wrong swing at the worst time Saturday in the Bay Hill Invitational.

The recovery was immediate and spectacular.

His 4-iron from 210 yards into a stiff breeze was so pure that Woods barely felt the ball meet the blade. It held its line against the wind, never leaving the flag until it landed about 10 inches from the cup and a roar rumbled up the hill.

Despite a bogey on Bay Hill's easy 16th hole, Woods was right where he wanted to be Saturday -- in the lead, and in position to win for the first time this year.

''It was a nice way to finish,'' said Woods, who had a 6-under 66 for a one-stroke lead over Sergio Garcia.

Now all he needs is another good finish Sunday for a chance to win for the first time on the PGA Tour since the Canadian Open, a stretch of eight tour events that constitutes his third-longest drought since he turned pro five years ago.

Woods was at 12-under 204, and had the outright lead after 54 holes for the first time in 10 PGA Tour events, dating to the NEC Invitational in August.

Garcia, who beat Woods in a made-for-TV match play event in California seven months ago, hit his approach into the 18th hole to about 4 feet for birdie and had a 68.

But this will hardly be a match-play situation.

Chris Perry had a 69 and, at 206, will join Woods and Garcia in the final group. Threesomes will start on both tees Sunday morning because of approaching storms.

Another stroke back was Masters champion Vijay Singh, while a large group at 208 includes Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman, playing his first PGA Tour event this year.

Scott McCarron had a chance to catch Woods until hitting into the water on the 18th hole and taking triple bogey to fall back into the large group at 208.

Woods, the defending champion at Bay Hill, started his final round two strokes out of the lead but looked early on like the player who won nine times and three straight majors last year.

''I had momentum on my side,'' Woods said. ''I just hopped on and rode it.''

By the end of the day, the lead wasn't quite the size Woods expected, but he had few complaints. He had a three-stroke lead going into the final three holes, but after a 15-minute wait on the 16th tee, his drive found the left bunker.

From 195 yards out and the hole below the huge ridge on the green, Woods hit 5-iron and hung it out to the right. What followed was the hollow sound of ''kerplunk'' as the ball landed in the murky pond.

Woods dropped into deep rough, hacked over the water to 45 feet and two-putted for bogey.

''I wasn't very pleased with myself coming off the 16th green,'' Woods said. ''I was thinking, if I birdie the last two holes, I basically end up with the same score I would have if I had birdied 16 and parred in. I gave myself two good chances.''

Woods finally broke the silence on the 17th tee by asking for the yardage from caddie Steve Williams, in a voice that suggested the bogey was already forgotten. He started walking almost as soon as he hit the 210-yard shot, knowing where it was headed.

''It's one of the few times where you feel nothing come up the shaft, when you know you've made a good swing,'' he said. ''That was a pretty good feeling.''

Woods will try to become only the second player to win the Bay Hill Invitational consecutively. Loren Roberts did it in 1994-95. More importantly, a victory would be the perfect answer for those continually asking Woods what's wrong with his game.

While Woods hasn't won his last eight PGA Tour events, he has not finished lower than 13th during that stretch, either.

Standard Register Ping

PHOENIX -- One day after shooting the first 59 by a women in competition, Annika Sorenstam looked a little more ordinary in a round of 3-under 68 in the Standard Register Ping.

Sorenstam, who had a record 13 birdies in her round Friday, bogeyed the last hole to take a three-stroke lead over Se Ri Pak into the final round of the

Sorenstam first bogey in the last 47 holes left her tied with Karrie Webb for the LPGA's 54-hole scoring record at 23-under 193. Webb set the mark last year in East Lansing, Mich.

Pak had two eagles, including one hole-out from the fairway, on her way to a 63.

Siebel Classic

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Hale Irwin shot a 2-under 70 in windy conditions to take a one-stroke lead over six players, including Jack Nicklaus, in the Siebel Classic in Silicon Valley.

Irwin, the winningest player in the senior tour's history, had a 3-under 141 total. Nicklaus, who designed the Coyote Creek course, shot a 74 to join Mark Hayes, Allen Doyle, Tom Jenkins, John Bland and Sammy Rachels at 142.

Madeira Island Open

SANTO DA SERRA, Madeira -- Italy's Massimo Florioli shot a 7-under 65 to take a two-stroke lead after the third round of the Madeira Island Open.

Florioli had a 15-under 201 total. Englishmen David Lynn (64) and John Bickerton (69) were tied for second. Spain's Seve Ballesteros was eight strokes back after a 70.

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