Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia make their move, but in the end Tiger Woods increases his lead.
By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2002
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- The cheers kept getting louder, the noise more deafening. And the thunderous ovations were not for anything routine, as they had been throughout a boisterous week at Bethpage State Park.
Finally, Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson were draining birdie putts, and two of Tiger Woods' biggest rivals were turning the U.S. Open into a competition rather than another coronation.
Woods was ordinary Saturday on his way to the second leg of the Grand Slam, giving a glimmer of hope to pursuers who have become accustomed to having their necks stepped on by the world's best golfer.
It wasn't until birdies at the 15th and 17th holes that Woods was able to stifle the rally, giving himself a four-shot lead over Garcia heading into today's final round of the 102nd U.S. Open.
"It seemed like I was over par for the entire round," said Woods, who shot par 70 at Bethpage Black. "But somehow I hung in there. And even though the other players made a run and played some great rounds of golf out there in a U.S. Open, I look at the leaderboard and actually I increased my lead."
Woods completed 54 holes at 5-under 205. Garcia, ranked fifth in the world, shot 67 to trail by four, with No. 3 Mickelson (67) and Jeff Maggert (68) tied for third, five back. Ireland's Padraig Harrington, who was paired with Woods and began the round three back, shot 73 to drop into a tie for fifth with Billy Mayfair (68) and Robert Allenby (67) at 211.
Six-time major-championship winner Nick Faldo, 45, shot the tournament's best score, 66, to move into a tie for eighth.
A victory today would make Woods the first player since Jack Nicklaus in 1972 to win the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year. It would be his eighth major championship, tying him with Tom Watson. And his track record suggests he'll get the job done. Woods has won 23 of 25 PGA Tour events when leading after three rounds, including all seven of his majors.
"There's still a lot of holes to go, a lot of shots to hit," Garcia said. "So it's not going to be easy, but it's not over yet."
Woods could have put away the tournament. After two days of brutal scoring conditions, the Black turned somewhat benign, allowing 13 subpar scores when it had yielded just 10 in the first two rounds.
But Woods was unable to take advantage. He bogeyed the fourth hole and the 11th hole, then three-putted the par-5 13th for par. And suddenly, the game was on.
"It wasn't necessarily that I didn't putt well, I didn't hit it close enough to make putts," said Woods, who needed 32 putts in the third round, compared with 28 the first day and 27 Friday. "I wasn't swinging the club anywhere near as I did the first two days."
Despite his struggles, Woods was ahead by five early, as Harrington double-bogeyed the fifth and Mickelson fell 10 back by bogeying three of his first five.
Mickelson, who turns 32 today, finally got on track, playing his last 13 holes 5 under. He birdied Nos. 13, 15 and 17 to pull within two, but bogeyed 18. He'll play in the second-to-last group with Maggert.
"If I can go out an make some birdies and make some noise, it puts a little bit of pressure on the players behind me," said Mickelson, who has 20 PGA Tour victories but is 0-for-39 in major. "And it's more difficult to make birdies on a U.S. Open golf course setup when you have to make birdies. It might be a good opportunity."
The same could be said for Garcia, 22, who has been fighting the galleries seemingly as much as his swing. Garcia endured heckling about his girlfriend, tennis star Martina Hingis, and the number of times he grips and regrips the club.
He also took some grief for his comments Friday, when he complained about the round not being stopped due to poor weather and suggested Woods got preferential treatment. Garcia shook hands with Woods in the interview room Saturday and apologized. But he doesn't plan to back down.
"I get more intimidated by the four shots than by Tiger," said Garcia, whose birdies at the 14th and 16th holes brought him within two. "I think that four shots, the way he is playing, is going to be difficult. But if I'm able to start well and put some pressure on him, you never know what's going to happen.
"I'm respectful of his game, but other than that, we're two human beings trying to put a little ball in the hole."