Woods back among the mortals

Are the rest fighting back against the best? Jose Maria Olazabal set a new Valhalla course record of 63 in the third round of the 82nd US PGA Championship and though the Spaniard will need to go low again today, Tiger Woods is going to be busy playing against more than history on the back nine of the year's final major, even if his nearest pursuers are not the best known names in the game.

Are the rest fighting back against the best? Jose Maria Olazabal set a new Valhalla course record of 63 in the third round of the 82nd US PGA Championship and though the Spaniard will need to go low again today, Tiger Woods is going to be busy playing against more than history on the back nine of the year's final major, even if his nearest pursuers are not the best known names in the game.

To match Ben Hogan's 1953 feat of winning three majors in a row, Woods will have to become the first player since Denny Shute in 1937 to defend the US PGA title successfully. But while he has won a Masters by 12 strokes, the US Open last June by 15 strokes, a new major record, and the Open at St Andrews by eight, his US PGA wins promise to be more competitive.

A year ago at Medinah, Woods beat Sergio Garcia by only one stroke in a thrilling finale. Yesterday, Woods had the rare displeasure of missing fairways and greens during a third round of 70 which left him on 13 under par, just one one shot ahead of Scott Dunlap and Bob May.

Woods had built a three-stroke lead with four birdies in the first 10 holes but took a double bogey at the 12th, three-putting from three feet. Dunlap, in the difficult position of playing alongside the world No 1, birdied the hole to draw level and though the 37-year-old dropped a shot at the next, so did Woods at the 15th.

Dunlap had made not even made the cut in a major championship as many times as Woods had won one but hung on well until another bogey at the 17th dropped him back to 11 under, before he matched Woods' birdie at the last. May, who came from three behind Colin Montgomerie to win the British Masters last year, shot a 66 as most of the field went under par.

Conditions were perfect for scoring, the course soft and no humidity in the air. Tom Watson, at the age of 50, showed what could be done by briefly tieing the Valhalla record with a 65. It was his lowest score in the US PGA, the one major he has not won. Watson joked: "It's not really going to scare the leaders."

Olazabal, after becoming the 18th player in major history to score a 63, reached nine under, where he was joined by Thomas Bjorn. A notoriously wayward driver, the Spaniard missed only one fairway off the tee, but the key to his round was a series of brilliant approach shots. A wedge to a foot at the second started the run and another to three feet at the third inspired hi to go to the turn in 32.

Another birdie followed at the 10th and then he hit a seven-iron to three feet at the 12th. "It was a fantastic shot," Olazabal said. "I knew it was going to be a special round then and a few holes later my goal was to get to 10 under. I didn't know 62 would be a new record." He birdied the 13th, the 15th and the 16th and only just missed another chance at the 17th. "I thought I had that one. It felt really good but at the last moment it turned away from the hole."

At the par-five last, he had to lay up but was between clubs and saw his pitch run off to the lower tier on the right of the green. "From there it was good to two putt," he said. "It is a long time since I enjoyed myself this much on the golf course."

Out in the worst of the conditions on Thursday afternoon, Olazabal opened with a 76 but then added a 68 the following day. "I wish I had played better on Thursday. You can't allow one bad round in a major these days. But it is not discouraging to see Tiger scoring so low. We all have to work harder to get closer to him. We have to attack the course, attack the flags and go for a low number."

Watson describes Woods as "supernatural". Jack Nicklaus had his first sight of the Tiger up close in competitive action during the first two rounds. Nicklaus birdied the last and almost holed a pitch shot, which would have meant he made the cut, before bowing out n his last US PGA. The Bear could not have been more impressed. "Tiger not only has the ability to be so much better than the other guys," Nicklaus said, "but the others are not sure they can win. That is a big factor. But what I enjoyed about watching Tiger how he played within himself and made it look very, very easy.

"He is doing it with so much more power to use. I don't think I have ever seen anybody do what he is doing so much wihin himself. Obviously, I knew he was good. Every time I turned on the television, he made a putt. But I had never watched him play, other than in a practice round, and I think he is better than I thought.

"And, of course, he is a pleasant young man to play with. He couldn't have been nicer. He has a good sense of humour and enjoys to joke around a bit. I think the baton passed a long time ago but it couldn't pass to a nicer young man who is obviously the cream of the crop right now by a mile."

Meanwhile, Jesper Parne-vik will not be eligible to earn Ryder Cup points when the qualifying starts next month afte relinquishing his membership of the European Tour. The Swede, a member of the last two Ryder Cup teams, joined late this year after being thrown off last year's Order of Merit for not completing the minimum 11 events after having heart problems.

Like other Ryder Cup players like Sergio Garcia, Parnevik was unhappy he had to requalify for next week's NEC World Invitational and that the US PGA was not included. Parnevik missed out on a place at Akron and will now not fulfil his 11 this season so has quit the European Tour. He will have to rejoin next year to be eligible for the The Belfry but his decision makes it more likely he will have to rey on a wild card from Sam Torrance.

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