Stricker stays on course in PGA 4-under 66 ties him for lead with Singh

August 16, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

REDMOND, Wash. -- They played the third round of the PGA Championship and the Quad City Classic broke out. Actually, we probably should be used to it by now.

What is it about the PGA anyway? How can Steve Stricker and Vijay Singh be sitting there together, double-buckled in the front seat, two guys looking for their first major victory and apparently dead set on continuing the PGA's quirky tradition of handing the trophy to first-timers?

Maybe it's tradition. For six PGA champions in the last 10 years, the PGA is their only major title. (See Davis Love III, Mark Brooks, Steve Elkington, Paul Azinger, Wayne Grady, Jeff Sluman).

And for nine of the last 10 PGA winners, the PGA was their first major victory (add Payne Stewart, John Daly, Nick Price).

What's the deal, anyway?

"I can't answer that," said Greg Kraft, who knew exactly how to shoot a course-record 65 but had no clue why the names up there at the PGA always seem to be pulled from the membership directory of Majors Anonymous.

It could happen again today when the 80th PGA Championship wraps up at woodsy Sahalee Country Club, where the trees are more well known than the leaders.

Stricker, the 31-year-old self-professed "Cheesehead" from Edgerton, Wis., produced a bogey-free 66 yesterday and managed to catch Singh at 7-under 203 through 54 holes.

Stricker won twice two years ago and disappeared last year.

Singh, who turned in a 3-under 67, has won five times in his seven-year PGA Tour career, but he's probably best known for his habit of moving the furniture in his hotel rooms so that he can practice his swing.

He also spends a lot of time putting in his hotel rooms.

"It depends on how fast the carpet is," Singh said.

After 54 holes, the PGA is wall to wall with first-timers and no-timers. Stricker and Singh have a four-shot advantage over Billy Mayfair, Love and Steve Elkington at 3-under 207 -- and Love and Elkington actually have each won a major.

Then there's Skip Kendall and Frank Lickliter, who haven't won anything, but they're tied at 3-under 208 with Mark O'Meara and Tiger Woods. O'Meara managed a 69, but Woods couldn't break par for the second consecutive day and finished with a 70.

Singh was all over the place on the front nine, where he had three bogeys and two birdies. At least Singh knew what the problem was. He was jumpy.

"I was feeling, I don't know, I felt a little bit nervous," Singh said. "Then I put my thoughts together."

This usually proves to be a solid idea in a major. Singh even went one better on the last hole, where he was a good 35 feet from the hole on the fringe, but spanked a putt through the fringe and got the ball to stop a tap-in away.

Stricker's round featured a darned good chip at the 18th. He missed the green with a fairway wood and rattled the ball around in a tree 50 yards from the hole. It dropped on some dirt and a fan accidentally kicked it. After getting a drop, Stricker used a sand wedge and chipped to eight feet from the hole, then calmly made the putt to save his par and remain tied for the lead.

"That just really kept me going," Stricker said. "It put the finishing touches on a good round."

Stricker has had several of those lately, thanks to five top-eight finishes in his last seven tournaments.

One of those was at the U.S. Open, where he finished fifth and played the last day with eventual winner Lee Janzen.

Stricker said he kept his eyes open and studied Janzen carefully.

"I took it all in," Stricker said. "I saw how he handled himself. If I can imitate what he did, I'll be in good shape."

O'Meara thinks he's in decent shape as well in his bid to join Ben Hogan as the only player to win three majors in a year.

"If I get out there and play the way I did today -- only make the putts -- I've got a reasonable shot," said O'Meara, who made only two birdies in his round of 69. "I'll probably be three or four shots back, and that's never that bad."

Pub Date: 8/16/98

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