Mickelson, Love tied at steamy PGA

Bjorn one back after 63

Woods rallies with 66

Golf

August 14, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. - The outdoor oven that was Baltusrol Golf Club yesterday baked greens, broiled spectators and turned the leader board at the 87th PGA Championship into a delicious souffle, stuffed with more than a few neat story lines.

At different junctures in the third round, Phil Mickelson and Davis Love III looked as if they were about to become a couple of overcooked victims of the 102-degree afternoon.

But just as Mickelson's physical conditioning and mental resolve in major championships were about to be questioned again, and just as Love's age and recent inconsistent performances became issues, the two veterans found their way into the lead.

Mickelson did it with atypical toughness, Love with his old touch. The result was that both are at 6-under-par 204 going into today's final round, one stroke ahead of a fast-charging Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, who shot himself into contention with a major-championship record-tying round of 7-under-par 63.

Though he missed back-to-back birdie putts within 10 feet on the two closing par-5s, Mickelson was proud of the way he overcame the three bogeys he made in the first six holes that cost him the lead. Mickelson's only major victory came when he took the 54-hole lead in last year's Masters.

"I thought that after the start, for me to fight and still be in the lead is a huge boost because guys were out there making birdies and I was going the other way," said Mickelson, 35, who shot 2-over 72. "To gut it out and play the last 12 holes without a bogey and still be in the lead is a huge success for the day."

Love's round, his third straight in 2-under-par 68, played out much differently than Mickelson's did.

Starting out four strokes behind at 4-under, Love birdied the first two holes, but then began to fade with three bogeys in a five-hole stretch. But starting at the par-4 11th, he made three birdies in five holes.

Suddenly, he was tied for the lead and, except for one hole, when he bogeyed the par-3 16th, remained there. So Love finds himself in the final pairing at a major for the first time since the 2003 British Open at Royal St. George's, where he finished tied for fourth.

"I'm hitting the ball more solidly than I have in a while," said Love, 41, who hasn't won a tournament in two years and, until recently, has been troubled by back problems. "I'm starting to get that feeling again, and I'm starting to hole a few putts."

It's not quite the same feeling he had eight years ago at Winged Foot, when he went into the final round tied for the lead with then recently crowned British Open champion Justin Leonard and wound up winning the first - and only - major of his star-crossed career.

"It's a long time ago to remember how I was feeling that Saturday," said Love. "I'm confident and excited about the way I'm playing and looking forward to the next round. Obviously, it's a little different situation. We were quite separated [from the field in 1997]."

In this case, there are 21 players within six shots of Love and Mickelson.

Among the more notable names near the top include two-time and defending champion Vijay Singh and former PGA champion Steve Elkington of Australia at 4-under 206; and two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen of South Africa, former British Open champion Ben Curtis and England's Lee Westwood (207).

And then there is two-time PGA champion Tiger Woods, who after barely making the cut Friday, shot a 4-under 66 to climb back to even par. But Woods, looking to win his third major this year and 11th of his career, left the Lower Course as hot as the weather after making pars on the closing par-5s.

"A little [ticked] right now," Woods said. "I thought if I shot 63 today, it would be a pretty good number."

Only one player had that magic number. With eight birdies and only one bogey, Bjorn climbed up the leader board early, tying the record for a major-championship round held by 21 others, including Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, both of whom shot that score here in the opening round of the 1980 U.S. Open.

"I've always been a guy that enjoyed playing tough golf courses when it's tough," said Bjorn, 34. "I really don't enjoy these 25-under-par things. So to get on a golf course like this, to post this kind of number, is certainly special to me. It's a long list, but it's certainly a good list to be a part of."

Bjorn would like to join another list today, that of major champions. He is best remembered for blowing the 2003 British Open, leaving two shots in a bunker on the 16th hole as he lost his lead and watched the then-unknown Curtis take home the treasured Claret Jug.

"You've got to go away from championships like that and say the one thing I can take from this is I am capable of putting myself in good position," said Bjorn, who has won eight times in a decade on the European tour. "The more often I put myself in that position, we all say one day it's going to break your way."

Those in the lead can testify to that.

Mickelson finished second three times and third five times in majors before winning last year at Augusta. Love was twice a runner-up in majors before winning at Winged Foot.

Neither wants to think too far ahead.

"I've got a lot to worry about for the next 18 holes," Mickelson said, "and the last thing I want to do is jump ahead."

Sort of like cooking souffles.

Leader Board

THIRD ROUND

Phil Mickelson -6

Dave Love III -6

Thomas Bjorn -5

Stuart Appleby -4

Vijay Singh -4

Steve Elkington -4

Pat Perez -4

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