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Els seizes lead with big, easy 66

By wire services
Published June 6, 2004

DUBLIN, Ohio - Ernie Els could sense his lead in the Memorial getting away.

He heard the cheers for Tiger Woods ahead of him and K.J. Choi behind him. He watched Fred Couples pour in a couple of birdies to catch him. It was time for the Big Easy to respond, and he did just that - by hooking his tee shot so far left on the par-5 11th that it landed on the other side of the creek.

Suddenly, it all turned around.

Els got the ball back in play and rifled a 5-iron to 20 feet of the flag to set up a birdie putt. Els' recovery was the highlight of an impeccable round of 6-under 66 that gave him a two-shot lead.

"That was definitely a bonus," Els said.

Aggressive to the end, Els played bogey-free on a sunny afternoon at Muirfield Village and finished at 12-under 204, the first time since the season-opening Mercedes Championships last year that he has held a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour.

Els hasn't squandered a third-round lead on tour in four years.

Couples (68), Choi (68) and Justin Rose (69) were two shots behind. Another stroke back was Stephen Ames (70) and Woods (67).

"I've got a two-shot lead, but it doesn't mean much," Els said.

Couples, the '98 winner at Memorial, continued to electrify the gallery with sensational shots. The latest was a wedge he holed from 70 yards on No. 17 for birdie that put him at 206 and in the final group with Els.

"I've got a great shot at winning," Couples said. "That doesn't happen very often."

British Open champion Ben Curtis, tied for the lead with Rose and Ames after 36 holes, had 73 that left him six shots behind, along with defending champion Kenny Perry (66).

Curtis got off to a rough start even before he made the 20-minute drive from his home in Ostrander. He nicked himself shaving, and was bleeding from the neck on the third tee. After getting some bandages to stop the bleeding, he took double bogey by hitting into the water and never quite recovered.

LPGA TOUR: Karrie Webb put herself in position for her first victory of the year, birdieing four of the last five holes for 8-under 64 and a two-stroke lead at the Kellogg-Keebler Classic in Aurora, Ill.

The Australian rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt on No. 14 and added birdies on the final two holes for an 11-under 133 total. Jill McGill and Seol-An Jeon were tied for second.

Webb, a two-time LPGA player of the year, won just once on tour last year. She finished out of the top 10 for the first time since joining the LPGA in 1996.

"I know I'm on the right track. I really believe that what I'm working on is going to give me a chance to play that kind of golf," Webb said. "If I don't win tomorrow, still, these are the two most solid rounds I've put together this year."

CHAMPIONS TOUR: Andy Bean shot 7-under-par 65 and was tied for the lead with Bob Gilder after two rounds at the Farmers Charity Classic in Ada, Mich.

Bean and Gilder, who shot 4-under 68, were tied at 10-under 134. First-round leader Sammy Rachels (73), Jim Thorpe (70), Tom Purtzer (69), Stewart Ginn (71) and Vicente Fernandez (71) were tied for third at Egypt Valley Country Club.

Bean went birdie-eagle-birdie from Nos. 12-14, moving into contention for his first victory on the senior circuit.

"I've been playing real well, but I just haven't been scoring," said Bean, who last won at the 1986 Byron Nelson Golf Classic. "A lot of it is confidence, there's no doubt about that."

EUROPEAN PGA: Paul Casey shot 7-under-par 65 to take a three-shot lead after three rounds of the Wales Open in Newport.

Casey, a three-time winner on the European tour, moved to 18 under, ahead of countryman Simon Khan, who followed a course-record 61 on Friday with a 2-under 70.

[Last modified June 5, 2004, 23:52:18]

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