Singh stretches lead at Tour Championship

Posted: Sunday, November 03, 2002

ATLANTA -- Vijay Singh was in familiar territory Saturday.

With an 80-foot eagle putt that left him feeling as if he were in the Twilight Zone, Singh blew away Tiger Woods and the rest of his challengers to build a three-stroke lead in the Tour Championship.

It was the third straight time Singh has held at least a share of the 54-hole lead at East Lake, only this time he has some breathing room.

''It's a lot better than going out with a one-shot lead,'' Singh said after a 5-under 65 gave him a comfortable margin over Charles Howell III.

Singh can thank No. 15 for that, a par 5 with a green he knows all too well.

Clinging to a one-stroke lead over Woods, Singh reached the 495-yard uphill hole with a 5-iron that stopped 80 feet beyond the flag.

''It was weird, because where my ball was, that's where the pin was yesterday,'' he said. ''And where the pin was, my ball was there yesterday.''

He three-putted for par Friday. He made the eagle putt Saturday.

''I knew the line,'' Singh said with a laugh. ''I was glad to see it go in.''

Singh was at 9-under 201 and can only hope his third chance at winning the season-ending Tour Championship is successful.

He had a one-stroke lead in 1998, but wound up losing in a playoff to Hal Sutton.

He was tied with Woods two years ago, but Phil Mickelson beat them both.

This time the most likely challenge figures to come from Howell, who kept in the hunt with an aggressive birdie on No. 17 for a 69, making him the only player in the 30-man field to break par at East Lake all three rounds.

Howell is making his debut in the season-ending tournament for the top 30 players on the money list, but his position is familiar, too.

While he never has played in the final group on a Sunday, he was three behind going into the last day at the Michelob Championship, where he claimed his only PGA Tour victory.

''I have to play well to catch him,'' Howell said. ''As has been proven on this golf course, birdies go a long way. It should be exciting. If Vijay plays great, then he'll win.''

Woods' magical ride around East Lake -- which included a birdie from an adjacent fairway and a left-handed shot from the leaves to save par -- came to a crashing halt with bogeys on two of his last three holes.

He wound up with a 67 to finish five strokes behind, and will be paired with Mickelson in the final round. Lefty also had a 67 and had to fight just as hard for it.

David Toms also was at 206 after a 70 that featured a rare ruling on the par-3 18th green. His ball stopped in a pitch mark, and Toms had to move it about 2 feet to the left to keep it from rolling down the hill.

That was a fitting conclusion to a bizarre day.

It started with Singh and his eagle on No. 15, a putt so long that ''I couldn't even see where my caddie was.''

''All I was trying to do was get it close, and it went in,'' Singh said.

When Woods made bogey ahead of him, Singh suddenly had a four-stroke lead that got everyone's attention.

''I would have never guessed that someone would have had a four-shot lead on this golf course,'' Howell said. ''That was a bit shocking.''

Equally stunning was how Singh finished, even though they were mere pars.

Singh missed the 16th green on the short side and hit what he called his best chip of the week, to 4 feet for a par. He found the bunker on 17 and blasted out to 6 feet for another par save, then got up-and-down from the bunker on No. 18 to protect his lead.

''I've played the bunkers very well this week,'' Singh said. ''It's good to see that it's all coming together.''

Woods almost came unglued around the turn.

His tee shot was so far left on the par-5 ninth hole that he decided to punch out to the adjacent fairway. His caddie, Steve Williams, had to step off the 151 yards to the green, and it turned out to be a perfect number.

Woods hit a 9-iron over the trees, landing 18 inches from the cup for a birdie.

Southern Farm Bureau Classic

MADISON, Miss. -- English rookie Luke Donald birdied three of the last four holes for a 5-under 67 and a one-stroke lead in the Southern Farm Bureau Classic.

The former NCAA champion from Northwestern, four strokes behind Brad Elder midway through the round, had a 15-under 201 total for the first 54-hole lead of his PGA Tour career.

Elder fell to third at 13-under 203 after an up-and-down 71 that included four bogeys, three birdies and an eagle on the par-4 sixth when he holed out on the fly from 123 yards with a wedge.

Deane Pappas, who was in the final group with Elder and Donald, was second at 202 after a 68 that included a spectacular shot from out of the sand and behind a tree to help save par on No. 16.

World Ladies Match Play

NARITA, Japan -- Sweden's Carin Koch, expecting her second child in April, beat Michele Redmen 2 and 1 to advance to the semifinals of the World Ladies Match Play Championship.

Koch, the European Solheim Cup star coming off consecutive second-place finishes, will face South Korea's Grace Park in the semifinals. Park easily advanced, routing Japan's Yuri Fudoh 6 and 5 on the windswept Narita Golf Club course.

In the other quarterfinals, South Korea's Hee-Won Han beat Rosie Jones 5 and 4, and Japan's Midori Yoneyama defeated Kelly Robbins 4 and 3.

Italian Open

ROME -- England's Ian Poulter made his third career hole in one and shot a 5-under 67 to take a one-stroke lead in the rain-shortened Italian Open. Poulter, the 2000 tournament champion, moved to 16-under 128, one stroke ahead of 1999 British Open champion Paul Lawrie of Scotland, who had nine birdies in a 63.

The tournament was shortened to 54 holes Friday after severe thunderstorms left the Olgiata Golf Club unplayable.

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