Garcia tied for lead; Tiger, Lefty lurking

Associated Press
Published January 29, 2006

SAN DIEGO - Sergio Garcia stood over a 5-foot birdie putt, the kind that has given him fits the last couple of years, and watched it roll true into the center of the cup Saturday for a share of the lead with Rod Pampling in the Buick Invitational.

Garcia is convinced his best days with the flat stick are ahead of him.

And as he walked off the 18th green at Torrey Pines and glanced at the leaderboard, there was little question how soon he was about to find out.

One shot behind was Tiger Woods, who tends to get the best of the 26-year-old Spaniard when it counts.

Another shot behind was Phil Mickelson, who recovered from a rocky back nine with a birdie on the last hole that left him only two shots behind.

"I've always enjoyed competition, playing against the best," Garcia said. "That's why I came here to the U.S., to play on this tour. It's going to be a fun day, and by no means is it going to be easy. I'm looking forward to what we can do."

Garcia and Pampling each had a 4-under 68 on the tough South Course, site of the 2008 U.S. Open, and shared the 54-hole lead at 11-under 205. They will be in the final group Sunday with Woods, who found his swing and fearlessly fired at flags on his way to a 67 that put him at 206.

Woods, the defending champion, shot 32 on the stronger back nine to get into contention in his first start of 2006. He was joined by Nathan Green (69), a PGA Tour rookie from Australia, and they had plenty of company. Ten players were separated by three shots.

"I put myself there with a chance to win tomorrow," Woods said. "There's so many guys with a chance. You have to play your game and see what happens."

Adding to the dynamics was Mickelson, one of nine players who had at least a share of the lead at one point Saturday. Lefty made three bogeys on the back nine, but a good putt on the 18th salvaged a 69 and left him two behind, along with Jesper Parnevik (73) and Brandt Jobe (75).

Mickelson started the day six shots out of the lead and made up that deficit in nine holes. When he hit his tee shot into 2 feet on the par-3 11th for birdie, he was ahead by one. But he failed to make birdie with a 6-iron in his hands for his second shot on the par-5 13th, and he couldn't save par twice after missing the green.

Forgotten among the names of Garcia, Woods and Mickelson was the co-leader - Pampling, who won at the International two years ago and was a steady, if not quiet, presence atop the leaderboard. His 8-foot birdie on the par-5 18th not only gave him a share of the lead, it put him into the final group.

"It will be fun to be out there," Pampling said. "It's nice to be amongst Tiger's group, because that's where the main crowd is, and that's what we work for. Hopefully, they'll be standing still when I hit."

CHAMPIONS TOUR: Loren Roberts moved a step closer to a Hawaiian sweep, shooting his second straight 6-under 66 to take a four-stroke lead over Scott Simpson in the Turtle Bay Championship in Kahuku, Hawaii.

The 50-year-old Roberts, coming off avictory last Sunday in the MasterCard Championship on the Big Island, is at a tournament-record 12-under 132.

EUROPEAN PGA/ASIAN TOUR: Henrik Stenson shot a 1-under-71 to retain his one-stroke lead after the third round of the Qatar Masters in Doha.

Stenson, at 11-under 205 heading into today's final round, leads Paul Broadhurst (67) and Niclas Fasth (68). Richard Finch, who shot a 71, and Ricardo Gonzalez (72) are tied for fourth, two strokes behind Stenson.

Defending champion Ernie Els had a 69 to move within six of the leader.

NATIONWIDE TOUR: Brendan Pappas shot a 3-under 67 to tie Tripp Isenhour (70) for the lead at 10-under 200 in the Movistar Panama Championship.