Singh carries one-shot lead into final round
Sunday, August 15, 2004
The Fijian seeks his third major title.
By Doug Ferguson ~ The Associated Press
HAVEN, Wis. -- Vijay Singh is one round away from turning a great year into his best ever.
Flawless over his final 13 holes Saturday at Whistling Straits as a pack of contenders fell away, Singh emerged as the man to beat at the PGA Championship, making a 5-foot par putt on the final hole for a 3-under 69 and a one-shot lead over Justin Leonard.
"I'm quite happy with the way I'm playing," Singh said. "I've worked hard for this."
Already a four-time winner on the PGA Tour this year -- twice more than anyone else -- the 41-year-old Fijian put himself in prime position to capture his third major and first since the 2000 Masters.
He has won his last seven tournaments with at least a share of the 54-hole lead, dating to the 2002 Houston Open. And the way he closed out his third round on a spectacular day along the shores of Lake Michigan, the final round should play right into his hands.
Leonard, who had a two-shot lead after making a 6-foot birdie on the 12th, bogeyed two of the longest par 4s at Whistling Straits, Nos. 15 and 18, to put himself in a dubious position of catching Singh.
With three straight rounds in the 60s -- unthinkable at the start of the week -- Singh was at 12-under 204. Leonard found the bunker on the 18th and had to scramble to make a bogey for a 70.
Leonard was at 205, giving him a third chance at winning the final major of the year.
"Vijay is an incredible player," Leonard said. "It's going to be a fun day. I get to go head-to-head with one of the best players in the world, if not the best player in the world. At the same time, I have to play a Pete Dye golf course that's pretty difficult."
It proved plenty difficult down the stretch for Ernie Els, Briny Baird and even Phil Mickelson, although all of them are very much in contention.
Els, one of four players with at least a share of the lead Saturday, narrowly missed four birdie putts on the back nine and it caught up with him when he started missing fairways.
The Big Easy had to made a great up-and-down on the 18th from some 60 yards for bogey, giving him a 72 and leaving him in a large group at 8-under 208 that included Mickelson (67), Darren Clarke (72), Stephen Ames (69) and Chris Riley (69), who is trying to sneak his way onto the Ryder Cup team.
Chris DiMarco had a 71 and was another shot behind.
Missing from the mix is Tiger Woods, which is no longer a big surprise.
Woods was poised to at least get into the picture until he lost his momentum with the click of a camera on No. 7, then failed to make birdie on the back nine for a 69. He was nine shots behind, and almost certain to end a 10th straight major without winning.
Singh cannot replace Woods at No. 1 in the world -- he needed Woods to miss the cut -- but he can put a stamp on an amazing career with a victory Sunday at Whistling Straits. It would be his 20th career victory on the PGA Tour and third major, credentials worthy of the Hall of Fame.
He can attribute it to his putter, which has held him back so many times in the majors.
Singh kept Leonard in his sight with a 10-foot birdie on No. 10 and an 8-foot par save on the next hole, then pulled even on the long holes where Leonard struggled.
Leonard drove into a bunker on the 518-yard 15th hole, had to lay up and failed to save par. On the 500-yard closing hole, his approach went into the bunker and he barely got out, leaving him two putts from 60 feet for bogey.
Along with taking the lead, Singh had a four-shot advantage on everyone else.
"That putt on the last meant a lot," Singh said. "Being four ahead of the pack, they've got to play one shot better to catch me now."
Mickelson joined the leaders quickly, another blazing start with three birdies on his first four holes, a 40-foot par save that he called the key to his round, and two more birdies to make the turn in 31, just one shot behind.
But he couldn't keep it going, three-putted the 11th from long range and picking up only one more birdie for a 67. At least he has a chance to become the first player since Jack Nicklaus in 1975 to win the Masters and PGA in the same year, and he can break new ground as the first to finish in the top three at all four majors.
"The only major championship I've won is the only major I've led after 54 holes," Mickelson said. "It's tough to catch up on Sunday, but it's a lot better than being six back. I'd like to be in the lead or tied, but I like it a lot better now than I did five hours ago."
Els, a runner-up at the Masters and British Open this year, hasn't given up on his chance to win the third leg of the career Grand Slam.
"Anything can happen on this course," Els said.
A lot did on a picture-perfect day at Whistling Straits:
-- Stuart Appleby thought he shot 68 and was still in the mix when he walked off the green, but then had to take a four-shot penalty on the par-5 16th. Hitting into a bunker beyond the ropes, where the gallery had been walking, he removed some twigs and leaves (two-shot penalty) and then grounded his club (two-shot penalty).
The PGA of America said earlier in the week all bunkers would be treated as hazards.
"You talk about saving shots in a round of golf," he said. "I basically could have saved four strokes by reading a piece of paper inside the locker room."
-- Scott Verplank, 14th in the Ryder Cup standings, was 1 under for his round when he went to the bathroom after hitting his tee shot on No. 5. Running to catch up to his group, he stepped in a grass-covered hole and twisted his right ankle -- the same foot that has ailed him since the Masters -- and shot 77.
-- Baird, the leader at one point, pulled his tee shot over the cliff left of the par-3 17th. He didn't make it up the 40-foot slope, then had to play back toward the fairway some 80 feet from the flag and wound up with a triple bogey to knocked him out of contention. He wound up with a 75 and was seven shots behind.
When it was over, Singh and Leonard had another date in the final group Sunday, two players with vastly different games playing for the same prize.