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Lefty, Love lead tight pack at PGA

Posted: Sunday, August 14, 2005

 

  Tiger Woods hits from the sand on the 13th hole during the third round of the 87th PGA Championship at the Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. Saturday, Aug. 13, 2005. AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

Tiger Woods hits from the sand on the 13th hole during the third round of the 87th PGA Championship at the Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. Saturday, Aug. 13, 2005.

AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Phil Mickelson was drenched in sweat before he hit his opening tee shot in temperatures that hit 100 degrees Saturday at the PGA Championship.

Then came the real heat.

Walking off the tee box, a cheer rang out from the 18th green as Thomas Bjorn got up-and-down for birdie to shoot 63, matching the record score for a major championship. In the group ahead, Mickelson could see Davis Love III birdie the first two holes on his way to a 68.

Just like that, the final major of the year turned into a shootout not many saw coming.

''We saw a lot of guys shoot under par,'' Mickelson said. ''I would have liked to have been one of them.''

Mickelson lost command of his tee shots and his putting, and he avoided a major meltdown by steadying himself for a 2-over 72 that left him tied with Love going into the final round at Baltusrol.

They were at 6-under 204 and had lots of company.

Bjorn's record-tying round gave him a chance for redemption in a major. Defending champion Vijay Singh made 17 straight pars before a birdie from the bunker on the 18th for a 69, leaving him two shots behind. And even Tiger Woods could no longer be ruled out after cutting his 12-shot deficit in half with a 66.

Lefty missed short birdie putts on the final two holes, both par 5s, his last chance to keep the lead to himself ending with a 6-foot attempt that caused him to buckle his knees when the ball grazed the edge of the cup.

He still managed a smile.

''To gut it out and play the last 12 holes without a bogey, make that one birdie and still be in the lead is a huge success for the day,'' he said. ''I struggled a little bit, but I fought hard to stay in the lead.''

Love cooled after his start, trading birdies and bogeys the rest of the way for his third consecutive 68. Winless in two years, he wound up in the final pairing at a major for the first time since the 2003 British Open, where he tied for fourth at Royal St. George's.

''I'm playing with a lot of confidence, just like Phil,'' Love said. ''That's why we're both on top of the leaderboard.''

Bjorn became the 20th player to shoot 63 in a major, and the first since Singh in the 2003 U.S. Open. It was the third 63 at Baltusrol, where Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf did it in the first round of the 1980 U.S. Open.

''This 63 is not about records,'' Bjorn said. ''It's about championships. And that's all it means to me, that I got myself into position where I can play from here. And I'm going to try my hardest tomorrow again, and then we'll see.''

Singh was joined at 206 by former PGA champion Steve Elkington (68), Pat Perez (67) and Stuart Appleby (69).

''It was hard work,'' Singh said. ''I told my caddie, 'I need one birdie.' I cannot do 18 pars. I've never done that before, and I didn't want to do that today. That puts me in good shape tomorrow.''

At the start of the third round, Mickelson had a three-shot lead, and only nine players were within five.

When he ambled off the 18th green, there were 17 players within five shots. And even Woods, who narrowly made the cut on Friday, still harbored hope.

Despite turning easy birdies into par 5s on the final two holes, Woods kept alive his chance of winning his third major of the year with a 4-under 66. Still, he has never come back from greater than five shots on the PGA Tour, and he has won all 12 of his majors from the front.

''Guys have come back from 10 back in majors and have won,'' Woods said.

But several guys ahead of him have plenty of experience winning the Grand Slam events.

It starts with Mickelson and Love, who have combined for 44 victories on the PGA Tour and 40 top 10s in the majors, although each has won just one major — Mickelson last year at the Masters, Love in the 1997 PGA Championship, made memorable by the rainbow over Winged Foot when he sank his final putt.

Bjorn has experience in the majors, too — just not the right kind.

The British Open two years ago at Royal St. George's was his to win until he took three shots to get out of a pot bunker on the 16th hole and wound up one shot behind Ben Curtis.

''My golf is good enough,'' Bjorn said. ''The more often I put myself in that position, we all say one day it's going to break your way. And I'm just going to keep trying.''

As for Curtis, he's back in the hunt, too.

After making the cut for the first time in a major since his British Open title, Curtis lit up the back nine with four birdies for a 67 and was at 3-under 207, three out of the lead, and in a large group that included two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen (69) and Lee Westwood (71).

All of this was made possible by Mickelson.

Playing his best golf in the majors this year, Mickelson looked to be in total command with a controlled cut off the tee and an ability to make every putt that mattered inside 10 feet.

But as thousands of fans crammed behind the ropes and waited to shower him with cheers, he delivered three bogeys in his first seven holes. A flop shot flew 25 feet by the cup on No. 2. He three-putted the fifth, missing a 3-footer. Then he went from rough to bunker on the seventh and could only blast out to 20 feet.

By then, the game was on.

Love started to lose ground by missing fairways, greens and putts — the recipe for bogeys at Baltusrol — until he rallied on the easier back nine with good tee shots. He hit 3-wood over the green for his second shot on the 650-yard 17th hole and got up-and-down for birdie.

''I'm confident and excited about the way I'm playing,'' Love said.

He had forgotten what that felt like; Love has not seriously contended all year. His best results featured a good final round that allowed him to sneak up on the leaders, but never threaten them.

''It's a fine line between not playing well and playing well, and I just needed to cross that line,'' Love said.

Mickelson was hardly giving up.

''I got off to a poor start,'' he said. ''Guys were attacking and making birdies. Thomas Bjorn shot 7 under. I saw Davis in front of me making birdies. To still be in the lead is a big bonus.''

The only other time Mickelson had a share of the 54-hole lead in a major was at the Masters last year, where he quickly buried Chris DiMarco, then emerged the winner after a dramatic duel with Ernie Els.

Els is home in England recovering from knee surgery, but there are plenty of candidates to challenge for the final major championship of the year.



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