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Swede is nipping at Tiger's tail
Little-known Daniel Chopra is paired with Woods in today's final round at Doral.
By BOB HARIG
Published March 5, 2006
MIAMI - Both live in Orlando, both have a link to Sweden. Beyond that, it is difficult to find much in common between Tiger Woods and Daniel Chopra.
They are, of course, both professional golfers, but that is sort of like saying the Yankees and Devil Rays are both major-league baseball teams. The difference in their resumes, their games and their popularity is immense.
But they will be paired in the final group at the Ford Championship at Doral after a wild day on the Blue Monster course shook up a leaderboard that featured six different leaders at various times.
Despite double bogey at the ninth hole and a difficult par save at the 18th, Woods shot 4-under 68 to emerge from a pack and take a two-stroke lead over Chopra (66) and Rich Beem (69). Woods finished at 199, 17 under par.
David Toms (70) and Colombia's Carmilo Villegas (71) were three back of Woods. Phil Mickelson, who was in the final group with Woods, could manage only 72 and dropped four behind. Scott Verplank, who began the day in a four-way tie for the lead, shot 74 to fall into a tie for 10th, six back.
Chopra, 32, was the big surprise. A long birdie putt on Doral's brutal 18th hole put him in his best position to win a PGA Tour event. In his third year on tour, Chopra has never finished better than a tie for fourth and has just five top 10s.
But he's played with Woods before, at the 2004 U.S. Open and at the 2004 Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan, which Woods won by 12 strokes.
"The first time I was obviously a little nervous to play with him," Chopra said. "The next time it was actually fun. To play with him again, all the better. That's why we're out here, to play against the best in the world."
Chopra, originally from Sweden - as is Woods' wife, Elin - moved to India when he was 7. He was a member of the European PGA Tour from 1996-2000, played in Japan for a year, then made it to the Nationwide Tour, where he won twice before joining the PGA Tour in 2004.
"This is the closest I've been after three rounds out here, which is kind of the ideal setting," Chopra said. "All of the spotlight is going to be on the Tigers and the Mickelsons. It would be nice if some guy would just sneak in there quietly in the back door."
Uh, that is going to be all but impossible for Chopra. Or anyone.
Not while paired with the world's No. 1 player in the last group. Not at Doral, where record crowds are expected to force a cap on ticket sales today.
And not against Woods, who is 33-for-36 on the tour when leading through 54 holes.
"Well, if you're leading, you're usually playing pretty good," said Woods, 30, who will be going after his 48th career tour victory. "So you've always got to think that way. I've always liked being in the lead because if you do make a mistake, you have that opportunity to rectify it and still win a golf tournament. Coming from four or five back, you make a mistake, you're not going to win the golf tournament."
Woods made enough mistakes Saturday to warrant a quick trip to the driving range before darkness fell. He hit a poor iron shot at the par-3 ninth that ended up in the water and led to double bogey. He failed to birdie either of the back-nine par 5s, the 10th and 12th. And he found himself a shot behind several players.
But Woods righted himself with a 6-iron to 3 feet at the par-3 13th, the only birdie at the hole all day. That started a run of three in a row.
The day began with dreams of Woods and Mickelson duplicating their final-round showdown of a year ago. But Mickelson made just three birdies and bogeyed two of the last three holes, dropping into a tie for sixth.
"Everyone has this whole idea that we're trying to play against each other," Woods said. "We were tied with two other guys. ... If we battle each other out, guys are just going to lap us. I was just trying to make sure I shot something in the 60s and move forward."