Saturday, August 14, 2004

Singh shares PGA lead with Leonard



By Doug Ferguson
The Associated Press

HAVEN, Wis. - From top to bottom, the PGA Championship delivered some major drama Friday.

The two best players battled across Whistling Straits until Vijay Singh wound up in a share of the lead and Ernie Els settled in one shot behind.

The No. 1 player fought just to make the cut.

"I gave it everything I had," Tiger Woods said after three birdies over his final six holes spared him the embarrassment of going home early for the first time in 129 tournaments and the first ever as a professional in a major.

Desperate to end an 0-for-18 streak in the majors, Singh kept his mistakes to a minimum on another mild day along the shores of Lake Michigan, shooting a 4-under 68 to join Justin Leonard atop the leaderboard.

Despite blunders on the par 5s, Els and Darren Clarke stayed right on their heels.

Briny Baird also was one shot behind, winless in 102 starts on the PGA Tour, which makes him a perfect candidate to win the final major. Thirteen of the last 16 winners at the PGA Championship had never won a major, and three had never won at all on tour.

By the time thousands of fans staggered off the sand dunes lining the fairways on the links-style course, they surely anticipated what figured to be a wild weekend with so much at stake for so many players:

• For Singh and Els, a chance to supplant Woods at No. 1 in the world.

• For Leonard and Chris Dimarco, hopes of making the Ryder Cup team.

• For Woods, a shot - albeit a long one - to end his 0-for-9 drought in the majors.

The leaderboard was loaded with big names, all of them on top of their games on a Whistling Straits course that again failed to scare them, despite playing all of its 7,514 yards.

Leonard, who must win to have any chance of making the Ryder Cup team, holed a couple of 25-foot birdie putts in a solid round of 69 that put him at 9-under 135 and in the final group Saturday with Singh.

Els had control of the tournament with four birdies on his first 10 holes to reach 10 under, but he let it slip away with a couple of wayward drives on the par 5s, making bogey on both of them for a 70.

Clarke was among four players tied for the lead at one point late in the round, despite misunderstanding his caddie and aiming at the wrong television tower on the par-5 11th, leading to a comical journey through some of Whistling Straits' 1,400 bunkers and giving him a double bogey.

He wound up with a 71 and was at 136 along with Els and Baird (69).

And while Woods was lucky to simply stick around, he wasn't counting himself out at even-par 144.

"The leaders didn't go too far away," he said. "Hopefully, I can shoot one of the scores they shot and put myself back in the ball game."

Even so, the guys he is chasing seem to be playing a different game.

Singh, who has struggled the past two years when paired with Woods, beat him by eight shots in the opening round and showed him how to get it done again on Friday. He kept the ball in play off the tee, making his only two bogeys when his drives strayed into the bunkers and tall fescue. And he looks silky with the putter.

Despite winning eight times in the last two years and again leading the PGA Tour money list, Singh has let chances slip away at the majors. He last won one at the 2000 Masters.

"I've been in position to win majors, but I haven't finished the job," he said. "I feel my game is coming around because my putting has improved. This is another opportunity."

It's also another chance for Leonard at the PGA. He was tied for the lead going into the final round at Winged Foot in 1997 but lost by five to Davis Love III. Two years ago at Hazeltine, he had a three-shot lead on Sunday and shot 77 to finish tied for fourth.

"I tend to learn more in failure than I do in success," Leonard said.

Els knows the feeling.

Second at the Masters. A playoff loser at the British Open. An 80 from the final group at the U.S. Open.

The Big Easy is back with another chance, this one looking as good as any. He holed 25-foot birdie putts on two of the first three holes and was cruising along when his sand wedge from the rough on No. 10 stopped 8 feet away from another birdie.

A good break, however, led to a big mistake.

After badly pulling his tee shot left on the par-5 16th, Els got a good lie and decided to go for the green. He hit it so far left it nearly went into the lake, catching a small bunker. He went into another bunker short of the green and took bogey to lose a share of the lead.

Els is thinking only of adding the the third leg of the Grand Slam, not about another season of major disappointment.

"I've never been scared of losing," he said. "I'm here to do as well as I can. If I play to my ability, I should have a chance Sunday."

Clarke lost his first-round lead quickly on the par-5 11th when he followed his caddie's instruction and aimed his second shot at the television tower. Only when his ball was in the air did Clarke realize they were looking at different targets.

"He said, 'You do know which TV tower I was talking about, don't you?'" Clarke said. "I said, 'Yeah, the one on the right.' And he said, 'No, it was the one on the left.' It was all my fault. I didn't really pay that much attention."

Better yet, he didn't lose his cool after the double bogey and recovered with five birdies the rest of the way.

DiMarco holed out from the 14th fairway and shot 70, putting him at 6-under 138 and making him the leader of the tournament within the tournament - making the Ryder Cup team. A two-way tie for eighth Sunday and DiMarco is almost certain to qualify by finishing in the top 10 in the standings.

K.J. Choi overcame a triple bogey on No. 4, his 12th hole of the round, when he lost his ball in the left rough. He still managed a 71 and was in the large group at 5-under 139.

But some of the biggest dramatics belonged to Woods.

He was off his game and could not afford any more mistakes. From just short of the 10th green, he hit a full flop shot that landed 3 feet from the flag to save par. Then he holed a 10-footer for par on the 11th.

Still one shot over the cut after his birdie on the 13th, Woods needed to find the fairway on the par-5 16th and delivered his best drive of the day, setting up a two-putt birdie. And when he holed a bending, 25-foot birdie on the 17th for breathing room, he lightly tapped his fists as he walked toward the cup.

The cut was at 1-over 145. Among those who won't be around are Love (79-69) and Mike Weir (73-73), who each missed a cut in a major for the second time this year.

Leaderboard

Justin Leonard66-69-135
Vijay Singh67-68-135
Briny Baird67-69-136
Ernie Els66-70-136
Darren Clarke65-71-136
Chris DiMarco68-70-138
Chris Riley69-70-139
Stephen Ames68-71-139
Padraig Harrington68-71-139
K.J. Choi68-71-139
Luke Donald67-73-140
Jay Haas68-72-140
Loren Roberts68-72-140




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