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Woods, Donald Fly So Low

With birdies easy to come by at Medinah, they share the lead after three rounds, a situation in which Tiger has been almost unbeatable.

August 20, 2006|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

MEDINAH, Ill. — Somebody must have gotten the name wrong. Mighty Medinah? After Saturday's third round of the PGA Championship, it's time for a change. Try Mickey Mouse Medinah.

There were enough birdies to fill up an aviary Saturday at Medinah Country Club, which had been enjoying this huge buildup as a tree-lined, golf-ball munching, 7,561-yard uphill march through a grassy hell.

Medinah has turned out to be about as macho as a doormat. And this is precisely how Tiger Woods treated it, walking all over the place with a seven-under-par 65 that matched the course record to lead an all-out assault that left par gasping for air.

Woods and 28-year-old Luke Donald from England, who turned in a six-under 66, share the lead after three rounds. But their margin is slim. Nine others are within six shots, with Mike Weir the closest, two shots behind after his own record-tying 65.

Woods said with the conditions the way they've been, he knows what he must do.

"I'll take 65 right now, yeah," said Woods, who is at 14-under 202 along with Donald. "But you know, it's different than most major championships today when you hit greens this soft and fairways this soft. And [with] the greens basically this slow, you're going to have to make a bunch of birdies.

"You can't sit there and make a bunch of pars."

Geoff Ogilvy double bogeyed the first hole and recovered nicely with a 68 that put him in fourth place, three shots behind Woods and Donald. Sergio Garcia and Shaun Micheel are next at 10 under, followed by K.J. Choi at nine under, then a group of four at eight under, led by Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco.

There were 236 birdies Saturday and with 1,268 in three rounds, birdies are officially in season. There were 19 scores in the 60s on Saturday and 49 of the 70 players who made the cut remain under par.

It's no secret that Woods is tough to beat in this position. He's 36-3 in PGA Tour events with at least a share of the 54-hole lead. What's more, he's 11-0 in majors in the same position.

Donald sounded as if he were trying to crawl into Woods' head.

"His numbers are obviously impressive," said Donald, who has two PGA Tour victories and attended nearby Northwestern. "But saying that, there's a lot of expectations on that. You know he doesn't want to ruin that record and he's going to be expecting to go out there and he'll have people expecting him to win. Maybe I can use that to my advantage and just kind of sneak by without anyone noticing and, you know, pick up the trophy."

Woods had eight birdies Saturday, Donald had six, and the 202 total is the lowest 54-hole score for a par-72 course in PGA Championship history.

When he won this tournament in 1999, Woods won at 11 under, but this Medinah isn't as difficult as it used to be. Showers on Friday evening left the new greens softer and slower than anyone could have expected. So Medinah got clobbered.

"The greens at this course are pretty much defenseless," Stewart Cink said. "And the scores are showing it."

Many took advantage. DiMarco shot a 30 on the front side, Donald a 31, Woods and Mickelson 32.

Woods did show he's not infallible. His streak of 147 holes without a three-putt ended when he three-putted from 40 feet at the 16th, which is also where he made his first bogey after 50 holes.

So on the next hole, the par-three 17th, the hardest hole of the day, Woods birdied it, hitting a seven-iron to 12 feet.

Weir says he knows he has his work cut out for him, if he's going to get past Woods.

"He takes advantage of those par fives and doesn't beat himself," the 2003 Masters champion said. "You don't want to be too far back. You just want to be in the mix and to stand up to him.

"It's not boxing. You've got to go out and play your own game."

Donald's game is about hitting fairways and sticking it close on the green, a game plan that has worked out well so far. He hit 10 of 14 fairways and 14 greens in regulation and needed only 27 putts.

Mickelson, whose 68 was his best round this week, said Donald needs to hold himself together if he is going to win his first major, and against Woods, no less.

"It can be a little nerve-racking," Mickelson said. "Whether you've done it or not, whether you've won majors or not, it is still nerve-racking to hold the lead. But it's a good nerve-racking. It's a good nervousness because that's what you look forward to, and it's sometimes that edge, that uneasiness in your stomach, that actually helps you play better."

There was little separation among the top players until Woods made his birdie at the 17th and Donald did the same thing moments later. At one point, when Woods birdied the second hole, there was an eight-way tie for the lead. When Garcia two-putted to birdie the par-five fifth, it was a 10-way tie.

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