Woods laps U.S. Open field

Third-round leader zooms to 10-shot advantage over Els

June 18, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- The sight of Tiger Woods jogging near the 17th green at the Pebble Beach Golf Club late yesterday morning drew stares from startled spectators surprised to see the leader of the 100th U.S. Open out of uniform, so to speak.

Woods had a few hours to kill between finishing the last six holes of his darkness-suspended second round earlier in the day and starting his third round. Considering the record six-shot lead Woods held at the time, maybe he was just practicing his victory lap around the rest of the field.

"I guess if you go on to lose, you look like an idiot," Woods said after a second round of 2-under-par 69 had given him a record-tying 36-hole total of 8-under 134. "Hopefully, that won't be the case. But the key is to play consistent golf. In a U.S. Open, that's what you need to do."

What Woods would do yesterday afternoon wasn't exactly consistent, but it was good enough to continue his onslaught on the Open record books. An even-par 71 that included a triple bogey, two bogeys and five birdies gave Woods a 54-hole total of 8-under 205 and a 10-shot lead going into today's final round.

While the other 62 players who made the cut look like they're flailing away in an Open, this merely resembles another Pebble Beach AT&T for Woods, who won that tournament in February. Then he came from seven shots back with seven holes left; somebody will have to make an even more miraculous comeback this time.

With the exception of two-time Open champion Ernie Els, who was in second place after a 3-under 68, few on the leader board had the kind of credentials to make Woods notice. He was also being chased by Manuel Angel Jimenez of Spain and Padraig Harrington of Ireland, both of whom were at 3-over par.

"I guess when you have maybe a small lead and you have a group of guys that are proven veterans who have won a lot of tournaments, especially majors, you do think about it," Woods said. "You're paying attention to what they are doing. When you have a big lead, you've just got to take care of business. If you do that for 18 holes, generally you win the tournament."

Even Woods seemed surprised by the size of his lead, something he never envisioned growing up and thinking about winning the Open.

"[As a kid] I'm usually playing against Jack [Nicklaus] and Arnold [Palmer] and Ben [Hogan] and usually it's neck-and-neck," Woods said. "But I've never had anything like this, even in fantasy golf, playing late in the evenings."

Woods' second-round lead -- which could have been even larger had he not put his tee shot with a driver on the par-5 18th hole in the water and, after spewing a few expletives in the direction of the ball, bogeyed the hole -- broke a 97-year-old record of five shots by Willie Anderson at Baltusrol.

His third-round lead was three shots better than the one James Barnes took into the final round of the 1921 Open at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase. It was also one shot more than the lead Woods had going into the final round of the 1997 Masters, which he won by a record 12 shots.

"I think I've played better this year than I did in '97, just because of the fact that it's so much more difficult off the tee," said Woods, 24. "I guess the results are similar, but it's really hard to compare the two. They're similar in that I've played the same way."

Asked if he is aware of the records he might break, including the 11-shot margin for an Open set by Willie Smith at Baltimore Country Club in 1899, Woods said: "To be honest, it's not important at all. The record in itself is being able to take that trophy home with you."

While Woods has never had much of a reputation for being a front-runner, he has built a legend as a closer. Since losing a third-round lead at Quad Cities shortly after he turned pro in 1996, Woods had won 17 straight events in which he led going into the final round. That streak ended when he lost a third-round lead at a tournament in Germany last month.

Both of his previous two major championships happened that way, first at Augusta and again last year in the PGA Championship at Medinah.

"The only way anybody else is going to win is if he comes back [toward the field]," Phil Mickelson said before his second straight 73 left him 12 shots back, tied with two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain. "Typically in an Open, everybody comes back. You have a little different sense of that with Tiger as though he may not."

Woods gave the rest of the field one last glimmer of hope early in the third round when he triple bogeyed the par-4 third hole to fall to 6-under par. When it looked as if Woods was headed for a double bogey on the par-5 sixth hole -- he hit his drive into the right rough and his second shot into heavy rough right above a fairway bunker -- he played his most magical shot of the week.

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