Tiger proves he\‘s \‘human\’ after all
By BILL HUFFMAN
Most of the contenders who are chasing him at the 91st PGA Championship keep insisting that Tiger Woods is “human’’ and therefore capable of losing a lead in a major at some point in his illustrious career.
Maybe they’re right. Maybe Woods’ game on the big stage isn’t as certain as death or taxes.
For the most part, Tiger looked like a mere mortal Saturday, when he took a four-stroke lead into the third round at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minn., but could do no better than a 1-under-par 71. That left the world’s No. 1 player at 8-under 208 — two shots in front of Ireland’s Padraig Harrington and South Korea’s Y.E.Yang.
. Also involved in golf’s version of “Mission Impossible’’ are U.S. Open champ Lucas Glover (4 under), Sweden’s Henrik Stenson (4 under) and the unsinkable Ernie Els (3 under).
But the fact remains Woods hasn’t lost one on his way to 14 major championships, all 14 of which he had the lead going into the final round. Breaking it down further, Tiger is eight-for-eight when he’s had the lead after 36 holes, as he did here in Minnesota, and he’s working on his fifth major where he’s gone wire-to-wire.
Where will the challenge come from if one does arise? Defending champ Harrington, who has won three majors in the past two years, would seem the most likely candidate to put together a charge. But Paddy won’t be paired with Woods; Yang will. Whether that turns out to be a good thing or not remains to be seen.
“You’re better off being paired with Tiger rather than being ahead of him,’’ said Harrington, who bogeyed the last hole for a 69. “But either way, you’ve got to play your own game.’’
Considering Harrington shot 73 when he went head-to-head with Woods on Friday, and Vijay Singh stumbled in with a 75 after tagging along with Tiger on Saturday, be careful what you wish for.
Despite doing no better than a 71 this time around, Woods seemed satisfied with his play that included a rather docile two birdies and a bogey. He did have a chance to expand his lead to three shots at the last hole, but never sniffed the cup on an eight-foot birdie putt.
“I had the lead, and I played conservatively,’’ Woods said of his strategy that might backfire if someone can get the putter rolling today. “Other than a few (missed) putts, I thought it was a pretty solid day.’’
Perhaps, but just the fact that Tiger’s lead was sliced in half when everyone thought he’d go deeper gives a tad bit of hope to those who claim he’s indeed “human.’’ . . .
Don’t discount Yang, the ever-smiling South Korean who earlier this year captured the Honda Classic. Even though the TV guys give him little notice, his 67 was the day’s best round and included three straight birdies beginning at No. 14.
But there’s more to the ying of the Yang, who holds the distinction of beating Woods in the 2007 HSBC Championship in China. He also has four other international victories and has won almost $2 million this year in his first full season on the PGA Tour. . . .
Stenson made his presence felt with a 68 that could have been even better had the tall Swede not missed short birdie putts on both the 17th and 18th holes.
Stenson might be a player to keep an eye on today. Especially if he closes like he did in the Players Championship, where his final-round 66 left the field in the dust as he overcame a five-shot deficit to win by four shots. . . .
Making himself known this week is Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen, who is 3 under after getting it to 5 under through the first 15 holes before tumbling back with bogeys at Nos. 16 and 17. Phil Mickelson is on his way to one of his worst finishes ever in a major, as he’s 8 over going into today’s final round after a frustrating 76.
Kjeldsen finished tied for seventh earlier this year in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson, but has yet to win worldwide in 14 years as a pro. . . .
Els got to 6 under through 15 holes then promptly gave it away with three bogeys on his last three holes. Particularly painful for the South African was a botched effort from inside 3 feet at the 17th.
Still, it’s been a big comeback for the Big Easy, who opened with a 75 and then came back with a 68. Not what most had expected after Els’ debacle at the British Open, where he missed the cut behind un-Ernie-like, 15-over aggregate. . . .
“I think the biggest issue for me is I’ve got to get this putter straightened out,’’ he said despite working on his putting all week.
Perhaps his lack of play is more to blame, as Mickelson has competed in only four tournaments since his wife Amy announced that she has breast cancer in early May. . . .
Michael Allen never did get any airtime even when the Scottsdale pro surged into
the top 10 on several occasions at 3 under.
But Allen, who got into the field by winning the Senior PGA Championship in May, couldn’t keep it steady, as his scorecard included six birdies, six bogeys and six pars. Especially painful: He got to 3-under with a birdie at the 15th hole then gave it all away with three straight bogeys to end his round. . . .
There are 28,000 PGA club professionals in the U.S., and two made the cut at the PGA. They are Grant Sturgeon (8 over) and Greg Bisconti (9 over). Even though both are way down the leader board, one will get to stand next to the winner today at the awards ceremony as the PGA’s “low club pro.’’