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Golf: Strong finish consolidates Woods' lead

TIGER WOODS yesterday managed a brilliant grandstand finish to take control of the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open here.

The English pair, Peter Baker and Brian Davis, had threatened to steal the limelight from the former World No 1 with excellent matching six-under- par 66s to reel in Woods half-way through the third round. But the 23- year-old responded with birdies at the 16th and 18th to stamp his authority.

A solid approach left a tap-in on the par-five 16th and a 30-foot putt on the 18th had the crowd around the last green on their feet and gave Woods a 68 for an 11-under 205. That was good enough for a three-shot cushion over Baker and Davis, with Ernie Els lurking a shot further back, the South African matching Woods' finishing birdie salvo after looking out of sorts for most of the day.

"I'm very happy with the way I played," Woods, the world No 3 who began with an eagle from 40 feet at the first, said. "I hit a lot of good shots, although I didn't hole a lot of putts. The greens are not easy to read and I missed several in a row from the sixth but I hung in there and had a good finish. It was a day for being patient."

Baker will also be a threat if he continues to perform as well on the greens as he did yesterday when he needed 25 putts to register seven birdies in his 66. The 31-year-old will play alongside Woods in the last group. "It'll be great to be out with Tiger," he said. "I'll bet he's never played with anyone from Wolverhampton before."

Sergio Garcia was in contention in the closing stages of his round as he recovered from a double bogey six at the ninth, where his approach found water, with birdies at the 15th, 16th and 17th. But the 19-year- old, third in the Byron Nelson Classic in the United States last week, again found water on the 18th to run up another six and finish five under. Colin Montgomerie was a shot further back after a 71, while Nick Faldo had a 73 to finish four over.

The best round of the day belonged to Zimbabwe's Nick Price. The former Open champion only just made the cut and shot a superb course record 65.

DEUTSCHE BANK SAP OPEN (Heidelberg) Leading third-round scores: 205 T Woods, (US) 69 68 68, 208 P Baker (Eng) 69 73 66 208, B Davis (Eng) 69 73 66; 209 E Els (SA) 66 73 70.