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Tiger Woods plays it safe and makes it interesting

His lead is cut to two after a 71 as he goes for 15th major title.

August 16, 2009|Teddy Greenstein

CHASKA, MINN. — Padraig Harrington could sense it in the thick, humid air above Hazeltine National. So could Ernie Els.

The fans want Tiger Woods to win the PGA Championship. But they also long for drama.

"Everybody wants to see a battle," Harrington said. "It's part of our human nature to support the underdog."

A reporter asked Els if he believed the galleries want to see him -- or anyone, for that matter -- duel Woods down the stretch today and threaten his two-shot lead.

"I could definitely feel that," Els said. "It's not a runaway deal. It looked like a runaway thing at the end of yesterday. But it looks like the guys are really set to give Tiger a go. The crowd could sense that."

But Woods, concentrating on winning his 15th major championship, did not get that read from the fans.

"Mmmm . . . no," he said. "I just hear them yelling a lot."

Woods did not give them much to shout about Saturday, converting only two birdies in a one-under-par 71. Apparently the world's No. 1 player was serious the other day when he talked about plodding his way around the course.

"I was pretty consistent," he said after posting a total of eight-under 208. "The card was pretty clean."

His golf wasn't all that pretty, with the exception of a gorgeous birdie on No. 14. After his second shot settled on the cusp of the fringe and greenside rough, Woods used the blade of his sand wedge to run the ball 15 feet into the cup.

He celebrated with a double fist pump, a nice contrast to all the scowls that have resulted from anything less than a perfect shot.

"It jumped perfectly straight coming out, held its line, broke at the end and went in," said Woods, who has never lost a major when leading going into the final round.

That birdie ended a 22-minute period during which Woods, who led by four at the start of the day, shared the lead at seven under with Harrington.

When Harrington hit his approach over the green and bogeyed the 18th, his only blemish in a round of 69, he fell two behind Woods in a tie for second with Y.E. Yang.

U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover and Players champion Henrik Stenson are four back. Els is five behind.

Yang was the first to post six under, so the South Korean gets to tangle with Tiger today.

"I've thought about this, playing with Tiger recently, and it came true so fast," Yang, 37, said through an interpreter.

Yang, who shot the best round of the day, a five-under 67, knows the odds are against him.

"Woods has won 70 times now [on the PGA Tour] and I've only won once, so it's 70-to-1 odds," he said. "Might as well go for broke."

Harrington echoed that.

"I suppose it's easy for us because we have nothing to lose," he said. "Everybody expects it's going to be him, so we get a free run at it."

Harrington, playing two groups in front of Woods, said he got a "nice boost" from the galleries.

"I had tremendous support," he said. "Everybody hopes the underdog catches up, but when he catches up, ultimately, they want the hero to win. That's the way all the storybooks are written.

"Like if I'm watching a soccer match, even my own team, I want it to be close until the end. They want Tiger to win, but they don't want him to win by three or four shots. They want him to be pushed and tested, and I'm happy to fill that role. You never know what happens over the last nine holes."

Woods, meanwhile, seemed aware of only one part of his surroundings.

While answering questions in the media center, he looked up as showers pelted the roof.

"Yeah," he said, "I think the greens are going to get softer."

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tgreenstein@tribune.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Catch him if you can

Tiger Woods is 14 for 14 when leading or tied after 54 holes in a major championship. He would extend that streak with a victory at Hazeltine, where he starts today's final round two shots ahead of Y.E. Yang and defending champion Padraig Harrington:

*--* Year Event Lead Winning Margin 1997 Masters 9 12 over Tom Kite 1999 PGA Tied 1 over Sergio Garcia 2000 U.S. Open 10 15 over Ernie Els, Miguel Angel Jimenez 2000 British 6 8 over Thomas Bjorn, Ernie Els 2000 PGA 1 Def. Bob May in playoff 2001 Masters 1 2 over David Duval 2002 Masters Tied 3 over Retief Goosen 2002 U.S. Open 4 3 over Phil Mickelson 2005 Masters 3 Def. Chris DiMarco in playoff 2005 British 2 5 over Colin Montgomerie 2006 British 1 2 over Chris DiMarco 2006 PGA Tied 5 over Shaun Micheel 2007 PGA 3 2 over Woody Austin 2008 U.S. Open 1 Def. Rocco Mediate in playoff *--*

Source: TigerWoods.com

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Today on TV

* 8-11 a.m. PDT, TNT

* 11 a.m., Channel 2

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Leaderboard

Scores after Saturday's third round of the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club (par 72):

*--* LEADERS 1st 2nd 3rd Par Tiger Woods 67 70 71 -8 Y.E. Yang 73 70 67 -6 Padraig Harrington 68 73 69 -6 Henrik Stenson 73 71 68 -4 Lucas Glover 71 70 71 -4 Soren Kjeldsen 70 73 70 -3 Ernie Els 75 68 70 -3 *--*

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