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LA QUINTA, Calif. -- Tim Herron, putter in hand, was in the zone .
"Today, I just kind of had it. The hole looked like a bucket," Herron said Friday after his 11-under-par 61 tied Stephen Ames for the Bob Hope Classic lead. "It's my lowest score ever. I've had three 62s.
"I had no idea, really, what I shot today. I was just trying to make every putt I looked at."
Herron, a three-time winner since joining the tour in 1996, began on the back nine at PGA West and birdied his first three holes, including a 40-foot putt on the 207-yard, par-3 No. 12.
He was 5 under after nine holes, then made six birdie putts, the longest a 15-footer, on the back nine for 30 as he shot the third 61 of the tournament.
He and Ames, who had 64, were at 22-under 194 after 54 holes in the five-day event.
Herron's 11-under round came a day after Jay Haas and Pat Perez had 61s.
Haas, the 1988 Hope champion and second-round leader, had a third-round 67 and was a shot behind the co-leaders. Perez had 70 that dropped him six strokes off the pace and into a group at 16 under.
Herron, 32, has not won since taking the Bay Hill Invitational in 1999. His other victories came in the 1996 Honda Classic and the 1997 Texas Open.
He tied for 56th last week in Phoenix, and tied for 40th in the Sony Open the previous week.
Ames keyed his round with accurate iron play, getting within 10 feet of the pin six times.
He also was pleased with his putting.
"I think I missed one putt under 10 feet," he said. "I knew there were going to be low scores here, but I didn't know it was going to be me."
Mike Weir and Rod Pampling had 65s and were 20 under.
David Gossett shot 9-under 62 at Indian Wells, another of the four courses used for the first four days of the tournament.
Defending champion Phil Mickelson, far back in the pack after shooting 70 the first day and 68 the second, had a third-round 63 to go to 15 under.
David Duval shot 68 and will need an extremely low score today to make the cut. He shot 78 the second day and is at 211.
MASTERCARD CHAMPIONSHIP: Hale Irwin began his quest to repeat as the top player on the Champions Tour by taking a share of the first-round lead in Kaupulehu-Kona, Hawaii.
Irwin opened the season with 6-under 66 to forge a tie with Dana Quigley and Steve Veriato.
Irwin had the only bogey-free round at Hualalai Golf Club.
Larry Nelson and Jay Sigel shot 67s and were a stroke ahead of eight players, including Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino. Nicklaus and Trevino, both 63, are in the tournament on sponsor's exemptions. Nicklaus designed the 7,097-yard layout.
Arnold Palmer, also playing on a sponsor's exemption, shot his age, 73. Defending champion Tom Kite, playing with Palmer, opened with 69.
The $1.5-million tournament is the first of 31 official events on the former Senior PGA Tour.
HEINEKEN LASSIC: First-round leader Paul Casey shot 5-under 67 to increase his lead to two strokes and leave Ernie Els 10 back after two rounds in the PGA European/Australasian Tour event in Melbourne, Australia.
Casey had a 12-under 132 total on Royal Melbourne's composite course. David Lynn was second after 65, the day's best round.
Els, playing for the fourth straight week after winning the first two PGA Tour events of the year in Hawaii and finishing second last week in Singapore, had par-72 for 142.
Starting the sunny but windy day at 2 under on the 10th hole, Els birdied his first two holes, but bogeyed the next two.
After three-putting from 5 feet for double-bogey 6 on No. 14, he parred the next two and finished the nine 2-over 38. He added two birdies on the final nine.
"I'm not too happy," Els said. "I lost my rhythm again this week. I don't know if I've overplayed myself a bit. ... I've done quite a bit of traveling. It's not an excuse, but I've hit some very ordinary shots out there this week."