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Micheel closes day strong for a surprise advantage

Saturday, August 16, 2003

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Move over, Ben Curtis.

Shaun Micheel, the latest surprise in a major, made four birdies in his final five holes Friday in the PGA Championship to take a two-stroke lead into the weekend at Oak Hill.

He still has two rounds left on the toughest PGA Championship course in 23 years. And he still has plenty of players within range -- but none named Tiger Woods.

"It's obviously way too early," Micheel said after a 2-under 68, matching the best score of the second round. "But if I continue to hit the ball as well as I did off the tee, I don't see any reason why I can't be around."

Unlike Curtis, a rookie who won the British Open in his first crack at a major, Micheel has played on the PGA Tour the last four years and has two majors under his belt, missing the cut both times.

Still, his name atop the leaderboard was the only thing that made the PGA Championship feel like the Grand Slam event known for producing first-time major winners.

For everyone else, it seemed like the U.S. Open.

Masters champion Mike Weir was leading by two strokes until he made bogey on the final two holes for a 71. Joining him at 1-under 139 was Billy Andrade, who overcame four bogeys in a five-hole stretch and shot 72.

No one else was under par at Oak Hill, which lived up to its reputation as one of the toughest tests in the U.S. majors.

"This will be a survival test to the end," Fred Funk said.

Micheel was at 3-under 137, the highest 36-hole lead in relation to par in the PGA Championship since it last paid a visit to Oak Hill in 1980. The cut was at 8 over, also the highest for a PGA since it was 9 over that same year.

None of that seemed to faze Micheel, who holed a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 8 and finished his memorable day with a 7-iron into 8 feet on his final hole.

"I hit some nice shots and made some nice putts coming in," he said.

Woods could hardly say the same.

Unable to control his short irons, Woods' wedge into the 482-yard closing hole went long into the gnarly rough, and he looked away in disbelief. No sooner was his chip in the air than Woods flung his club at the bag.

He bogeyed the 16th and 18th, shot 2-over 72 and was nine strokes behind. For the second straight day, he refused to speak with reporters.

Phil Mickelson had two double bogeys in a round of 75, dropping him four shots out of the lead. Still, he was well within range of a major that has eluded him the last 10 years.

"That's kind of a 'glass half empty, half full' question, and I'm going to go with half-full," Mickelson said. "I'm a couple of shots off the lead heading into the weekend, and I feel like I'm playing pretty well."

Twelve of the last 15 players to win the PGA Championship had never won a major, and any number of players fit that mold going into the weekend.

Rod Pampling of Australia, who shared the first-round lead with Mickelson, had two double bogeys on his first five holes. Unlike the 1999 British Open, when he went from a first-round lead to missing the cut, the former greenskeeper recovered.

He took two shots to get out of a fairway bunker on the 18th, then holed out from 144 yards for par to shoot 74 and reach even-par 140.

Along with Mickelson, the group at 1-over 141 included three-time major winner Ernie Els, despite a double bogey by the Big Easy on his final hole.

"I really wanted to get to red numbers by the end of the day, and I almost did that," Els said after a 69. "I have two rounds to go, and I'm here for the weekend. I have a chance."

He and everyone else.

Five others were at 141, none of them major winners. The half-dozen guys at 142 included Vijay Singh and two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen, who knows a tough golf course when he plays one.

"Generally, the PGA doesn't have as much rough as the U.S. Open," Janzen said after a 4-over 74. "Generally, it takes maybe 10 to 12 under par to win. But this is fine. If you're playing well, you want it to be as tough as possible."

It was every bit of that for Woods.

Trying to avoid a Grand Slam shutout for the first time since 1998, Woods has made only two birdies in 36 holes at Oak Hill. His two-day total of 146 might be even worse if not for several good par saves, none bigger than a 25-footer on No. 8.

Woods has never won a major when trailing by more than five after any round.

"You know that you just have to be very patient, and that if you can somehow get back to near par, you'll have a chance of winning the tournament," Woods said through a PGA Tour media official.

Mickelson rolled the dice, as usual.

It paid off when he hit driver out of the rough and under the trees into a bunker on the par-5 fourth hole, setting up birdie to give him a four-shot lead at 5 under.

It cost him when he tried to hit out of the rough and over the water, failing to clear the creek on No. 5 for a double bogey. He also hit into the creek by pulling his 3-wood off the tee on No. 7, making another double.

Only when he finished nine holes did Mickelson realize this wasn't a user-friendly PGA Championship.

"I didn't think it was going to play anywhere near this difficult until after about nine holes today," Lefty said. "Then, I realized that par was going to be a pretty good score."

He made two more bogeys the rest of the way, but was still hovering around the lead.

The other lefty was equally exciting.

Weir's round was getting away from him when he bogeyed the 14th and missed the green to the right on the par-3 15th. But he chipped in for birdie and changed his course, holing putts and chipping in again on No. 5.

But his grasp on the lead slipped away when a gust caught his approach on No. 8 and left him short of the green, and he twice hit into the rough on No. 9, having to get up-and-down from about 60 yards for bogey.

"Not the finish I was looking for, but that's this golf course," Weir said. "You miss a shot a little bit offline, it's going to bite you."

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