It's a flat-out sprint to the finish line at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, which so far has amounted to an exercise in golf course torture. But with 72 holes down and 18 more to go, is there anything out there that can quiet all the good vibes?
The short answer: Probably not. The longer answer is that as long as there is a chance for someone to shoot a score so low it's borderline subterranean, anything looks possible.
Kenny Perry, whose eight-under-par 64 at La Quinta on Saturday featured back-to-back eagles, established the early line on today's final round at the Palmer Course at PGA West.
"It's going to be a shootout," he said.
Kirk Triplett, who has won two tournaments in 15 years, has a chance to make it three after his nine-under 63 at Indian Wells pulled him into a tie for the lead with Phil Mickelson at 26-under 262.
Perry is third, a shot off the pace, and 50-year-old Champions Tour holdout Jay Haas is next, two shots behind the leaders, by virtue of his bogey-free 67 at the Palmer Course.
The closest pursuers are Ben Crane, Skip Kendall and Danny Ellis, who are three shots behind Mickelson and Triplett. After submitting his 65 as evidence, Jesper Parnevik established himself as a contender at 22 under, the same as Loren Roberts, who posted a 66 at La Quinta. Even Paul Azinger, alone in 10th place at 21 under, is not out of the running.
Meanwhile, Mickelson is like everyone else, simply happy to have a shot at the $810,000 winner's share of the $4.5-million purse.
"The biggest thing for me is not whether I'm two or three shots ahead or two or three shots behind," he said. "It's that I have a great opportunity to compete for a championship, which is something I have not been able to do in a while."
Mickelson had two bogeys in his round of 67 at Bermuda Dunes and he has only five bogeys for 72 holes. As impressive as that number is, it's not as good as Triplett, who has not made a single bogey so far. Not that he's counting, mind you.
"I'm not saying any more about that," Triplett said.
He was asked whether he remembered the last time he played 72 holes without a bogey.
"Yeah," he said. "Never."
Chances are Triplett can't afford many, or possibly even one more bogey. But that's the same for all those in the top four, each one with an opportunity to start the year with a win and resolve a nagging doubt at the same time.
Can Mickelson, who obviously doesn't know the meaning of the word rust, win the first tournament he has played since October and get his first victory since June 2002?
For Perry, his task is to stay on track even though he says he is frazzled by his schedule, a burden carried over from last year.
Triplett proved he could handle Indian Wells, but does he have another 66 stored under his floppy hat to match what he shot at the Palmer Course on opening day?
Haas needs to find out if he is owed something based on what happened to him the last two years here: Leading on the last day in 2002, he closed with a 74 and tied for 16th, and then when he was tied for the lead with one hole to go in 2003, he knocked it into the water and lost by a shot to Mike Weir.
Perry certainly had the answer to the fifth and sixth holes at La Quinta, a PGA Tour rarity of consecutive par fives. On the first, a 516-yarder, he was on the green in two with a four-iron and sank a 12-footer for an eagle. Then at the 527-yard sixth, Perry hit a second-shot three-iron to eight feet and made that one too. Down by four shots to Mickelson, he quickly cut his deficit to two.
"Those two putts were really crucial for me," he said. "I was not thinking about back-to-back eagles, I was just thinking about making it to get back in the golf tournament."
The longest birdie putt Triplett made at Indian Wells was a 20-footer at the 10th, with everything else 12 feet or closer. But he also holed a bunker shot to eagle the fifth and put himself in the race.
With seven birdies and an eagle, that's a very nice round, but Triplett said it's not enough. Nothing ever seems enough around this place.
"I'm rolling the putts in," he said. "I feel confident doing it. I need to continue. It's not like I've made enough to win the golf tournament. I need to make a dozen or so more, at least."
Leaders after Saturday's fourth round of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in La Quinta (par for all courses is 72):
Phil Mickelson...68-63-64-67--262 -26
Kirk Triplett...66-65-68-63--262 -26
Kenny Perry...64-66-69-64--263 -25
Jay Haas...65-68-64-67--264 -24
Skip Kendall...63-68-68-66--265 -23
Danny Ellis...71-63-67-64--265 -23
Ben Crane...68-64-65-69--266 -22
Jesper Parnevik...67-68-66-65--266 -22
Loren Roberts...67-67-66-66--266 -22
Paul Azinger...67-65-66-69--267 -21
Robert Gamez...71-69-60-69--269 -19
Bernhard Langer...67-67-69-68--271 -17
Retief Goosen...71-64-70-67--272 -16
Mark Calcavecchia...72-65-68-67--272 -16
Justin Leonard...65-71-69-68--273 -15
John Daly...68-68-65-72--273 -15
Mark O'Meara...72-69-67-65--273 -15
Mike Weir...70-67-68-70--275 -13