Golf / USA PGA Championship: Eagle lands for Wadkins

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The Independent Online
LANNY WADKINS ran up the hill in front of the 13th green, raised his arms and acknowledged the rapturous applause of the crowd. In one fell swoop the 43- year-old Virginian eagled the 13th in sensational style to take the lead, albeit temporarily, in the 75th US PGA Championship at Inverness yesterday.

Wadkins, who began the third round two strokes behind the Fijian, Vijay Singh, played a poor drive at the 515 yards 13th and after he had played out of the rough he was still 146 yards short of the green. His shot, with an eight iron, pitched past the flag, spun back and rolled into the hole for a three. He went from nine under to 11 under and that gave him, briefly, a one-stroke advantage over Greg Norman, who had finished with a 67.

In oppressive heat Wadkins's masterstroke was the most spectacular in a series of outlandish shot-making. Tom Watson chipped in at the seventh and the 14th to remain on the leaderboard and Nick Faldo also rallied to give himself a chance in the final round today. Wadkins finished with a 71 and is one of six players at nine under for the championship, a stroke adrift of Norman. There are four more players, including Faldo, on eight under.

Wadkins has had a barren year and his performance here could persuade Watson, the captain of the United States Ryder Cup team, to pick him for the match against Europe at The Belfry next month. At the 11th hole in the second round Wadkins had another swing of outrageous fortune when he holed a wedge shot from more than 100 yards for an eagle.

Wadkins, who was paired with Singh, had a double-bogey six at the seventh in the third round, where he drove into a creek and had to take a penalty drop. However, he birdied the 10th and 12th and picked up two strokes at the 13th. When Wadkins drove into the rough at the 15th his backswing was obstructed by a branch and he dropped a shot to go back to 10 under and another bogey at the 17th also hurt him.

Faldo, who began at six under, shot 69 yesterday. He finished with a flourish with birdies at the last two holes. Faldo, who at one point sheltered from the sun beneath an umbrella, dropped a stroke at the first where he played a tentative chip but recovered with a birdie at the long eighth. At the 13th he hit a pitching wedge to four feet; at the 17th a six iron to a similar distance and at the last he holed a putt from seven feet. 'It's put me in good shape,' Faldo said. Twelve months ago he was joint second in this championship.

Norman was deprived of the US PGA Championship when it was held at Inverness in 1986. At the 72nd hole Bob Tway holed a bunker shot to deny the Australian. Norman, the reigning Open champion, had his own share of good fortune yesterday when, from an exceptionally difficult lie, he chipped in for a birdie three. It provided his round with impetus and he also had birdies at the 13th and 14th holes. 'I've got better and better as the tournament's progressed,' Norman, who was suffering from a sore throat, said. 'I always said there was going to be a bunch at the top. The greens are not that scary. They're the equalizer.'

Singh, playing in only his second US PGA, struggled over the front nine, dropping strokes at the third, the sixth and the seventh. When he had another bogey at the 14th he had fallen back to seven under but birdies at the 15th and 16th put him back on the leaderboard. Also at nine under are five Americans, Wadkins, who won the US PGA in 1977, Watson, who has won eight majors but never this title, Hale Irwin, Bob Estes and Paul Azinger.

Alongside Faldo on eight under are three other Americans, Dudley Hart, Brad Faxon and Scott Simpson. 'I have hit the ball pretty consistently all week and the course has been friendly to me,' Faldo said. 'You can be aggressive all the way round. You have to hit the fairways and then you can attack from there. The opportunities are there to make birdies.'

Faldo is the only European with a realistic chance. Ian Woosnam is at four under, Sandy Lyle one under, Jose-Maria Olazabal two over and Barry Lane five over. Lane, who had a 67 in the first round, shot 77 in the third.

The 30-year-old Singh has been relentlessly grilled by the American press, who have found out as much about him as we have. Which is very little, and we've been watching him on the European Tour since 1988. If you want to find Singh venture no further than the practice ground. Morning, noon and night, That is his habitat. 'I don't drink, I don't smoke,' he said. 'Just let me hit balls. I have one main concern. To reach the very top.'

Last year he won twice in Europe and this season he won for the first time on the US Tour, the Buick Classic at Westchester. near New York. He won in Malaysia, Nigeria and Morocco before struggling as a resident pro in a Borneo rain forest. 'What are the weaknesses in your game?' he was asked here. 'None,' Singh replied.

(Photograph omitted)

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