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U.S. OPEN AT OAKMONT COUNTRY CLUB

Woods wants it badly

Australian Baddeley leads by two, but Tiger has major experience that makes him the favorite

June 17, 2007|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

OAKMONT, PA. — Forget what the third-round leaderboard reads.

The final act of the 107th U.S. Open is shaping up as a showdown between Tiger Woods, winner of two U.S. Opens, against a conga line of contenders who have combined for, um, one.

For the record, Aaron Baddeley of Australia holds a two-shot lead over Woods heading into today's final round at Oakmont Country Club.

The real question is: Will it hold?

"Obviously, I'm going to deal with some emotions because I've never been in this position before," Baddeley said. "But I play golf, I've worked my whole life to be in this position, so I'm going to embrace it."

Baddeley is trying to follow in countryman Geoff Ogilvy's kangaroo steps and become the second straight Australian to win a U.S. Open -- and to think Greg Norman didn't win one.

Baddeley rolled in a birdie putt at No. 18 and fist-pumped his way to his second consecutive round of even-par 70. He stands at two-over 212 through 54 holes and will have to hold off Woods, the world's No. 1 player and the pursuer of Jack Nicklaus' records, who shot one-under 69 and is at 214.

Woods vs. Baddeley does not seem like a good matchup on paper, but neither is Woods vs. anyone else in the Oakmont top 10 except maybe Jim Furyk, who won the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields.

Four players -- Paul Casey, Stephen Ames, Justin Rose and Bubba Watson -- are three shots behind Baddeley.

Steve Stricker, Furyk and Angel Cabrera are four shots behind.

Cabrera, from Argentina, began the day with a one-shot lead over Watson, but his Saturday scorecard ballooned to 76.

Watson would have put in a fine round if not for the par-four ninth hole, where he scored a triple bogey. Other than that...

Woods left the course almost licking his chops. He struck the ball about as purely as possible, hitting 17 of 18 greens in regulation. He burned the edge of the hole on several putts or might have carded something really special.

Oakmont settled down a bit from a raucous Friday that produced an average score of 76.9. Saturday's scoring average, thanks to some green watering, was a more scream-friendly 74.6.

Still, through 54 holes, no player has played a bogey-free round and only six have played rounds under par.

Woods said he won't be looking at faces today, even though he will be paired with Baddeley in the final grouping.

"You just play the course," Woods said. "You can't play the field."

But what is Woods really up against?

Baddeley, 26, is a fine young player with two PGA Tour wins to his credit.

The golfer named Watson that Woods has to hold off is Bubba, not Tom.

Casey has eight European PGA Tour wins, but he's from England, and no European has won the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970.

Rose has contended at the British Open and the Masters, but he is also English (See drought since 1970).

Ames, if he won his first major, would be the first man from Trinidad and Tobago to do so. His best finish at the U.S. Open is a tie for ninth in 2004.

Stricker is 40 and has three PGA Tour wins. Cabrera is a veteran whose swing is sometimes hit and miss.

What does Woods have that these don't on the final day of a major?

"They're going to deal with emotions that they've probably never dealt with," Woods said. "It helps to have experience. I've been there before and I know what it takes."

The exception in this group is Furyk, who won the 2003 U.S. Open in which Woods finished tied for 20th. Furyk also finished tied for second last year at Winged Foot. Woods missed the cut.

Yet, even Furyk knows Woods is the modern-day Jack Nicklaus.

"And he kind of has that ability like Nicklaus where he has to come up with a key shot or a key putt and he has the nerves and the ability to go ahead and do it," said Furyk, who birdied the last two holes Saturday to finish with a 70.

Not that this U.S. Open is open and closed -- there are shards of hope for the others to draw from.

Remember last April's Masters?

Woods took the lead on the front nine Sunday at Augusta but didn't hold it.

He let the green jacket slip away to Iowa's Zach Johnson in one of the Masters' most improbable upsets.

Woods needed a birdie-birdie finish to tie Johnson at Augusta but ended up par-par and two shots back. Woods finished a fit-to-be-tied for second. As a man on a quest to make history, Augusta in 2007 will be remembered as an opportunity lost.

Also, in all 12 of his major victories, Woods has held the lead going into the final round. That means he is winless in majors when he has not.

Woods started Saturday five shots behind Cabrera.

Woods never had the outright lead Saturday, but he pulled into a tie at three over when Cabrera missed a par putt at the par-four 10th while Woods was cleaning up a par putt at No. 14.

Woods struck the ball crisply until the final hole, when he missed the fairway using his driver and ended up with his only bogey of the day.

His par putt teased the cup but would not go in. Woods showed his disdain by taking a knock-kneed stance while he tapped the ball in.

Today, it's back to the serious, chasing-Nicklaus business.

"Right in the mix," is how Woods described his chances for winning his 13th professional major.

Baddeley will be standing next to Woods all day.

But can he stand in his way?

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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Begin text of infobox

60s flashback

So far, only six players have shot rounds under par this week at Oakmont Country Club (par is 70):

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