Leonard Grabs PGA Championship Lead
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CHASKA, Minn. (AP) _ The vicious wind was reminiscent of a British Open, so it was no surprise that a guy who owns a claret jug seized control in the PGA Championship.
Only it wasn’t Tiger Woods.
Justin Leonard, the wind-tested Texan who practically begged for difficult conditions at Hazeltine National Golf Club, left everyone in the dust Saturday over the back nine with a 3-under 69 to build a three-stroke lead going into the final round.
Leonard was the only player to break 70 on a day in which the gusts reached 38 mph, a mere zephyr in Texas.
He was at 9-under 207, the first time Leonard has been a 54-hole leader in a major since he and Davis Love III were tied after three rounds in the 1997 PGA Championship at Winged Foot. Leonard won his only major earlier that year at Royal Troon.
He hasn’t been a factor in the majors since then, but he’s in perfect position now.
The last five players who have been in the lead going into the final round of the PGA Championship wound up with the Wanamaker Trophy.
Leonard will be paired with Rich Beem, who is playing only his fourth major. Beem bogeyed two of the last five holes for a 72 and was at 210.
Fred Funk (73) was another stroke back, and Woods was still a major presence.
Woods ended his round with a bogey on No. 18, the same hole where earlier Saturday he produced one that he called one of his best shots ever to complete the storm-delayed second round and get into the mix.
Woods shot 72 in the afternoon and was at 212, along with Mark Calcavecchia (74). He has never won a major when trailing going into the final round.
At stake is a chance to become the first player to win all three U.S. majors in the same year _ the American Slam. Woods already won the Masters and U.S. Open.
``All I have to do is play well, make putts,″ he said. ``It’s really no big secret. There’s only a few guys ahead of me.″
The guy who holds all the cards is Leonard.
While the 30-year-old Texan has only seven PGA Tour victories, they include a couple of big ones. Along with his victory in the ’97 British Open, he won The Players Championship a year later against the strongest field in golf.
``This is a tough track, and with the wind blowing like this, he hits the ball pretty flat. It suits him,″ Woods said. ``He’ll fight, he’ll grind it out and he’ll get up-and-down.″
At least Woods broke 80.
That wasn’t the case the last time the wind blew this hard in the third round of a major, when Woods shot an 81 to lose hope of winning the Grand Slam.
Hazeltine played nearly four strokes over par, and only four players managed to break par. Despite the gusts _ one so hard that an umbrella blew out of a spectator’s hands and flew away like a beach ball _ the course was soft from 3 1/2 inches of rain overnight.
Still, that Leonard was the only player to break 70 spoke volumes.
``This is a round I’m going to remember for a long time,″ Leonard said.
Woods, meanwhile, hit a shot that no one will soon forget when he returned Saturday morning to complete his second round.
From a fairway bunker, he was 202 yards from the hole on No. 18. The ball was below his feet. He barely had enough room to stand without his legs brushing against the side of the bunker. He had to clear the lip, clear a cluster of trees 72 yards away and get to the back of the green into 35 mph gusts.
He hit 3-iron into 12 feet for birdie.
``That’s the single greatest shot I’ve ever seen him hit,″ said caddie Steve Williams, who has been on the bag for 30 victories and eight majors.
The end of the second round left five players tied for the lead, the second straight major there had been that large of a logjam at the top after 36 holes.
But that’s where the similarities with the British Open ended. An eight-time major champion shot in the 80s, but it was Tom Watson (83), not Woods.
Yes, the wind was outrageous, but the weather was warm, the course was soft, and reasonable scores were available to anyone who kept the ball in play.
No one did that better than Leonard and Beem.
Beem, the former stereo salesman playing in only his fourth major, grabbed the lead with a birdie on the opening hole and never gave it back until his only hiccup _ a poor tee shot into the trees, a bold approach that went into the bunker and a bogey on No. 14.
Leonard was on his heels the back nine, starting with a 7-iron that stopped 4 feet away for birdie on No. 10, and another birdie from 10 feet on the par-5 15th. The wind-tested Texan built the largest lead of the day with an approach into 2 feet on the 16th.
The drew an even a bigger cheer than when Woods saved par moments earlier from 25 feet, and Leonard poured it on from there.
Over the final four holes, he went from a share of the lead to a three-stroke advantage.