Golf: Jaded Woods fights the fatigue factor

THERE WAS considerable separation of wheat from chaff during the third round of the Johnnie Walker Classic here yesterday as some of the surprise names from the early leader board found the spotlight a bit bright and duly made way for those more used to being in contention in the closing stages of big tournaments.

Some might question the New Zealander Michael Campbell's right to be included in that category, but there has never been any doubt about his talent - only his ability to apply it at the right moments. Just recently, though, there have been signs of increasing golfing maturity and today he has a chance to show whether that process is now complete. He takes a three-shot lead into the final round.

It will certainly not be easy, as he has Messrs Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh breathing down his neck and he will have to defend his lead on a course that has shown a propensity to trip up even the best at unexpected moments.

Certainly, Campbell yesterday played the most impressive golf of the leaders, but to continue to do so when faced with the chance of your first tour win is another matter.

Woods continued to be frustrated at not holing many putts of significance. His only birdies in a round of 70 came at the par fives, all of which he could reach in two. But he did without doubt play the shot of the week at the 16th hole.

His tee-shot ended up right by a tree, from which any normal mortal would have just chipped the ball back into play. Not Woods. He took a full swing at the ball, knowing that the club shaft would crash into the tree trunk just after the moment of impact; certainly a risk to limb if not life. But the shot came off and, though the club was knocked from his hands, the ball reached the green and he duly made his four.

That aside, Woods has just looked a little jaded, which is no surprise after winning tournaments in each of the last three weeks. He has also had a heavy extra-curricular schedule here with functions to attend every night, not to mention endless requests for interviews and statements. Sure, he's been paid $1m to be here, as he now is every week he plays outside the United States, but making money should now be the last of his concerns. It is to be hoped that both he and his managers realise his is a very special talent that can only be dissipated by too much rushing about.

Nick Faldo is beginning to show signs of returning to some sort of form. A 69 yesterday has him in the top dozen with a round to go, but while he is putting together more good scores he now too often falters when he has the chance of a high finish.

Part of his dominating make-up during his championship-winning years was the ability to grind out the shots and the figures when it really mattered. That particular talent may now be in decline, and if it is then no amount of thrashing balls on the practice ground will bring back the glory days.

He may be too far back in the field to have a chance of winning here, but he is within three shots of Woods, Els and Singh and if he could pass some of them it would at least be a step in the right direction.

Els, too, has shown an uncharacteristic vulnerability when in with a chance of victory this year and although he is not at his best he would welcome the chance today to prove his winning instincts are still in sound working order.

He, like Woods, is four behind Campbell but will not have forgotten how 22 months ago, the last time this tournament was played, he was in a comfortable lead going into the final round only to have the Tiger come from eight shots behind to beat him in the play-off.

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