Woods seizes solid PGA lead

World number one Tiger Woods will have history on his side heading into the final round of the 89th PGA Championship after a solid one-under par 69 in the third round of the year’s final Major.

Woods is hoping to win his first Major of 2007 after falling short in the Masters, British Open and US Open. He looked unbeatable on Saturday as US veteran Scott Verplank became the latest playing partner to fall by the wayside.

“I accomplished my goal today [Saturday],” Woods said. “My goal was to shoot under par and increase my lead.
Positive day all around.”

Defending champion Woods put himself in position to capture his fourth PGA Championship and 13th career Major, sprinting away from Verplank to reach a 54-hole total of seven-under 203.

The others have their work cut out for them as Woods has a three-shot lead on second-place Stephen Ames of Canada and is a perfect 12-for-12 in Majors when leading going into the final round.

“In order to have a great year you have to win a Major championship,” Woods said. “I had some opportunities to do it but haven’t done it. I have a chance to do it tomorrow [Sunday]. Hopefully I can get it done.”

The PGA Championship winner has come out of the final group in the last 11 years and in the six prior Majors at Southern Hills, every winner was ahead or sharing the lead after 54 holes.

Ames, who shot a 69 on Saturday, will be playing in the final group of a Major for the first time since turning pro in 1987.

American Woody Austin is in third after shooting a 69 to reach three-under 207. Australian John Senden is five strokes behind after shooting a 69 and Ernie Els, who also shot 69, is six shots adrift.

Verplank finished with a disappointing four-over 74 to join a pack of seven at even par 210.

“I guess I slept wrong,” Verplank said. “I just didn’t play any good, honestly. There was really no two ways about it.”

Competition for the record $1,26-million winner’s share was still wide open until Friday when Woods cranked his game up another notch, shooting a 63 and coming within one shot of setting the record for the lowest score in a Major.

Woods came to Tulsa as the overwhelming favourite after a dominating eight-shot victory last week at the Bridgestone Invitational.

“He [Woods] was the same all day,” said Verplank, who ended a string of 29 consecutive holes without a bogey by getting his first on the par-five sixth. “I am not sure he even knew he was playing with me for about three holes there.

“I was so far off the golf course. I tell you what. He’s pretty darn good. The best putter I have ever seen, bar none.”

South Africa’s Els wouldn’t bet against Woods on Sunday.

“The statistics will tell you it’s over but as a competitor I can’t say that. There are 18 holes left to be played,” Els said.

“He has got to make a lot of mistakes. He is playing well right now and he has a lot of confidence.”

The players teed off Saturday in sweltering temperatures at the Southern Hills Country Club course.

Woods finished with birdies on holes four and 12 and his only blemish of the day came when he made bogey on the par-three 14th.

Woods, who started the round with a two-shot lead, benefited from a three-stroke swing on the 12th hole, making a birdie while Verplank made an agonising double bogey.

Verplank finished with five bogeys and three birdies but the double bogey was an especially cruel jolt for the local favourite.

“If you want to play at the highest level and play with Tiger then you just got to get a little better,” he said.

Verplank’s shocking collapse opened the door for Ames, who will try to avoid a similar meltdown while playing alongside Woods.

“I am not going to be watching what he is doing,” Ames said. “He has done it 12 times and he won 12 titles when he is in the lead.

“He has that influence on players. It is probably going to happen to me. I haven’t been in that situation. My game plan is to be conscious of what I am doing and not what Tiger is doing.”

Woods moved to seven under for the tournament on Saturday by sinking a six-foot putt on the fourth hole for his first of two birdies. He saved par on the 249-yard par-three eighth hole with a nice bunker shot that left him with an easy putt.

“It is just experience,” Woods said. “I have played a lot of tournaments from a very young age. The key is knowing what to do when you are out there in that situation. You get a feel for what you have to do.”—AFP

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