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Tiger Woods four shots behind Charlie Wi at Pebble Beach

Wi leads Ken Duke by three shots, but Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are among those within striking distance going into the final round.

February 11, 2012|By Diane Pucin

Reporting from Pebble Beach — It was called the "big-boy leaderboard" Saturday.

That wasn't because Charlie Wi, a 40-year-old with modest expectations but so far with a steady swing, was the leader for the third day in a row at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Wi shot three-under-par 69 at Spyglass Hill and had a three-round total of 15-under 199.

And it wasn't because a slump-shouldered 43-year-old, Ken Duke, who has a metal rod in his back and too many years on the Nationwide Tour to be proud of, shot 65 on the Monterey Peninsula course and was three shots behind Wi.

No, the big boys come later.

Tiger Woods, winner of 71 PGA Tour events but none since 2009, shot 67 and was third, four shots behind Wi, who has never won a tournament and isn't sure exactly how difficult protecting a Sunday lead will be.

Phil Mickelson (70) and Dustin Johnson (70), who between them have combined to win five of these clambakes (the nickname for this tournament when Bing Crosby was the host) are tied for fourth, six shots behind Wi.

So is Hunter Mahan, who finished second a year ago and is dealing with some serious jet lag. Mahan played at Torrey Pines two weeks ago, then played in Doha, Qatar, last week and then flew back to California.

He did miss the cut in Qatar. which helped a little. But it is an 11-hour time difference between California and Qatar, so excuse Mahan if he yawns occasionally.

Padraig Harrington (72), a popular Irishman who has won three majors, is tied for ninth, seven shots behind Wi.

But it is Woods who will be the focus of attention Sunday, playing in the second-to-last group with Mickelson. Woods' round of 67 on Saturday at Pebble Beach meant that for the first time in three years he has shot three rounds in the 60s in the same week.

Better than that, to the thunderous fans who rooted loudly for Woods at Pebble Beach and even to Wi, who wants so much to win a tournament, having Woods in contention is a great thing.

"We definitely need Tiger out there," Wi said. "He drives the PGA Tour. I don't know if you guys want to hear that … it's very important for him to be competing and being near the lead all the time because that drives viewers and that's what helps us with our retirement fund."

Wi laughed about that last part.

The retirement fund began to look good when Woods birdied five holes in a six-hole stretch on a Saturday that was alternately sunny, dreary and drizzly.

Part of birdie-making is needing as few putts as possible, and Woods hit 27 on Saturday.

"I didn't hit it as well as I did the last two days," Woods said, "but I made some more putts and really managed my game well today. When I missed, I missed in all the right spots. Even though my game was slightly off, it's not as off as it used to be. Which is very good."

Like Wi, Duke said it was great to have Woods in the mix.

Duke, who is winless in 142 PGA Tour events, said he played in front of a gallery of about five Saturday. He knows it will be different Sunday.

"Everyone will be out to see Tiger, and it's great for the game," Duke said. "I'm glad to see him back. He's worked hard to get back to where he's supposed to be, and it's just going to be fun."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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