US PGA: Tiger puts the wind up all Chicago

Woods closes on second major but is stalked by Garcia, the 19- year-old with history in mind
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The Independent Online
TIGER WOODS, seeking what has proved to be an elusive second major title, moved into a share of the lead after three rounds of the 81st US PGA Championship. The 23-year-old Woods swept to the top of the leaderboard with a 68 but was joined at 11 under par by Mike Weir, a left-handed Canadian rookie.

Weir, who won the Qualifying School last year, pitched in for an eagle at the 14th, birdied the 17th and then saved par from a bunker at the last. Woods's only dropped shot came at the difficult par-three 13th, but he immediately recovered and scrambled his way home. "I didn't feel as comfortable today but I tried to miss in the right places and then trust my short game," Woods said.

But Woods was unable to drag Lee Westwood with him. The 26-year-old from Worksop, leading the European challenge for the Wanamaker Trophy, tracked the Tiger in the penultimate group of the day but a 74 left Westwood seven behind.

Instead, Sergio Garcia, the first-round leader on Thursday, will hold European hopes of a third major win of the year after his 68 left him two strokes back with Stewart Cink. Apart from having to beat the best player in the world - although David Duval went back to the top spot on the rankings earlier in the week - the 19-year-old Spaniard wonderkid would become the youngest winner of a major this century.

After a second round in which he had little luck on the greens, Garcia had the perfect start when he hit his approach to three feet at the first. With the help of his short game, Garcia then parred his way to the turn before birdieing the 10th, 14th and 17th, where he hit his tee shot to nine feet and holed the putt. As in his opening 66, he did not drop a shot, not even when bunkered at the last.

With the maturity Garcia has displayed this week it is easy to forget this is only his second major as a professional, the other being a calamitous performance at Carnoustie. His only other major in America was the Masters in April when he won low amateur honours.

The last of Woods's four wins this year came at the Western Open, also in the Chicago area and where Weir was the runner-up. "The key is to keep giving yourself chances to win and I've managed to capitalise on my opportunities this year," Woods said. "I've always had a good game-plan but as my swing as become better, I'm starting to execute it better."

After winning the 1997 Masters with a putting display - he did not three- putt nor did he miss from inside 10 feet - he is unlikely to repeat, Woods set about improving his game to contend on courses that, unlike Augusta, do not suit his power off the tee. His best finishes since his win were third places in last year's Open and at Pinehurst in the US Open in June.

For Westwood, it was just getting himself into contention on the big weekends. In his 14th major, he finally managed it. If he was venturing into the unknown, then being paired with Woods made it feel more comfortable.

Yesterday was the fourth time in this season's majors they had been thrown together. Westwood arrived at the course in a police car but that was only because his courtesy car had not turned up and the patrolman who was due to give him an escort offered him a lift.

Westwood started three behind the overnight leader Jay Haas, who slipped back with an outward 39, but only one behind Woods. Both birdied the par- five fifth but though Woods holed a putt from off the green at the next, Westwood missed from short range.

Both again birdied the next par-five, the seventh, but at the short eighth Westwood's tee shot stopped on the front fringe behind the pitch mark. He tried to putt with a three-wood but left it six feet short and bogeyed. Out in 35, three more dropped shots followed in four holes on the back nine as the commotion surrounding Woods reached full intensity.

Not to be overshadowed by the youngsters, Colin Montgomerie tried to mount a charge with a 70 to be four under. Monty, after an hour on the range the previous evening, went to the turn in 34 and then birdied the par-five 14th to be five under. But he dropped one at the 16th, and missed a good birdie chance on the last. "I can't see anyone catching Woods," Montgomerie declared. "He is the best player in the world and he's proving it. I suppose he's overdue a second major."

Nick Faldo, after two encouraging days to make his first major cut of the season, had a disappointing 75, dropping four shots in last seven holes. Fred Couples dropped six on the same stretch for another 75. Couples may still be one of Ben Crenshaw's wild cards tomorrow, along with Tom Lehman.

Even so, Faldo remains in the wild card thoughts of Mark James, the European Ryder Cup captain. James has until next Sunday to finalise his team and though events at Medinah may have complicated matters, at this late stage the captain can only be pleased that all those in the tightly bunched group from Jean Van de Velde in eighth place down to Alex Cejka in 14th made the cut.

James's problems were summed up by Jesper Parnevik, who despite a 73 is almost certain to be one of the picks. "There are too many guys not on the team who should be on the team," Parnevik said. "The more guys who qualify on their own the better."

Garcia, of course, can go along way to doing that today and avoid a trip back to this week's BMW International in Munich. "Sergio is obviously in form and would be a great asset to the team, even if it is at my expense," said Robert Karlsson, the Swede in ninth place.

Karlsson battled to a 73 but Scotland's Andrew Coltart looks like getting knocked out of the top-ten after an 80. Becoming the first Frenchman to play in the Ryder Cup has given Van de Velde a positive focus after the Open and making the cut here, despite dropping to three over with a 75 yesterday, will have helped his cause.

Full scores, page 9