Woods has part lead, all spotlight

Long drives, key putts steal the show going into PGA's last round

Weir tied at 11-under

Garcia: `Maybe we have to play for second'

August 15, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

MEDINAH, Ill. -- His career, if not his life, has been watched by the world's microscope, his success and failure judged more closely than any golfer to have played the game. Today, as Tiger Woods finds himself on the brink of another victory, he will be in a position that he hasn't been in since winning the Masters two years ago.

Woods will go into the final round of the 81st PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club as a leader.

The presence of Canadian left-hander Mike Weir, tied with Woods after yesterday's third round at 11-under-par 205, seems almost superfluous. Even 19-year-old phenom Sergio Garcia of Spain, two shots behind along with Stewart Cink, figures it's Woods' tournament to lose.

"If he keeps playing like he did today, maybe we have to look for second place," said Garcia. "But I'm going to do my best."

There were times before and during a 4-under-par 68 when Woods was magical, displaying the touch and talent that has made him the best player in the world. It began when Woods drove a ball more than 300 yards into a far-distant hole on the practice tee.

In a stretch of three straight birdies on the front nine that gave him the lead, Woods made a 50-foot putt from off the green and an 80-yard wedge shot to within four feet. He also recovered from his only bogey by nearly holing out from a bunker for eagle on the par-5 14th and saving par from six feet on the par-4 16th.

"I enjoy being in the position where everyone is trying to beat me," said Woods, 23, who has won seven straight times while entering the final round in the lead, yet has never gone into the last round as a co-leader. "Other players are going to have to shoot much better to catch you. But this is not the case tomorrow."

Weir, 29, put himself in position for his first PGA Tour victory with a 3-under-par 69, which included holing out for eagle-3 on the par-5 14th hole to pull to within a shot of Woods and then making a 20-foot putt for birdie on the par-3 17th to forge a tie.

It will mark the fourth time this year that Weir, a second-year player who had to return to PGA Tour qualifying school after his rookie season, will be playing in the final twosome. Last month at the Western Open, Weir played in the last group with Woods, who took a four-shot lead into the round and won by three.

"To be in this situation -- if you had told me at the beginning of the year that I'd be here -- I'd probably say no way," said Weir, who is ranked 103rd in the world. "But the way I've been playing the last couple of months, I've been playing better and gaining more confidence. He's the best player in the world, so I'm definitely the underdog. I don't have anything to lose."

Said Woods: "Mike is a very solid player. I'm going to have to go out there and play a good round of golf in order to beat him as well as the other guys."

If Woods is going to pay attention to anyone aside from Weir, it will likely be Garcia, the wunderkind who turned pro in April after a dominating amateur career in Europe, won his first tournament as a pro in July and nearly won again the week before the British Open. Lurking five shots back are two-time PGA champion Nick Price and perennial major contender Jim Furyk, both of whom moved into contention by shooting 69.

Incredulous as it may seem, Woods believes that taking a nine-shot lead into the final round of the Masters, where he won by a record 12 shots, might be more difficult than coming in with a share of the lead. While the pressure has mounted in the 10 majors since, Woods recalled the circus-like atmosphere that followed him that week among the dogwoods and azaleas.

"With a nine-shot lead at Augusta, you're more nervous over that because if you do lose it, then it looks like you can't finish off a big round of golf," said Woods. "On top of that, what made Augusta difficult, is that in '96, what happened to Greg Norman. He had a six-shot lead and lost. So it could happen.

"And going into that round, there were a lot of other things going on, a lot of records, a lot of social issues that were at the time, I think more prevalent than they are right now. But it was a tough round of golf. Tomorrow won't be as difficult, but it will be difficult."

There are some forces working against Weir. A Canadian has never won a major championship. A left-hander has won only once, and that came 36 years ago when Bob Charles of New Zealand won the British Open. What is going for Weir is the fact that of the last 11 PGA champions, 10 were first-time winners in a major.

Asked how fans in Canada might react to him winning, Weir said, "I don't know how it would be. It might not be much at all, but it might be crazy. I hope I can do it and find out. I'm just going to get out there and play as hard as I can and whatever happens, I'll be satisfied because I know I'm going to give it all that I have."

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