Tiger Woods’s apparently serene passage towards his fifth title of the year hit an unexpected obstacle at the Capital City Club in Atlanta when a rare double bogey at the 16th hole cut his three round lead to just two strokes from Fiji’s Vijay Singh in the World Golf Championships – American Express Championship.
The World Number One had soared from his overnight position of seven under par to ten under after 13 holes with the assistance of a triple helping of twos, but he visited two bunkers at the 16th for a six. Suddenly a four stroke lead was halved as Woods closed with a round of 69 for an eight under par total of 202.
Singh, an Honorary Member of The European Tour, signed for a course record 64 – six under par – for a total of 204 while the pair of Spaniards, Sergio Garcia and Ignacio Garrido, share fifth place on 208, two under par, after rounds of 70 and 69 respectively.
Two-time Volvo Order of Merit winner, Retief Goosen, birdied the last from 12 feet for a round of 67 and a total of 209 to lie in eight place while one of the best rounds of the day came from England’s Paul Casey, who converted a six foot chance on the 18th for a superb 66 and ninth place on 210, level par.
Singh, the current Number One on the US PGA Tour money list, stepped up his bid to wrest that title from Woods with a dazzling outward 31 and three successive birdies from the tenth. Two bogeys and one further birdie got him into the recorder’s hut in 64 blows and he said: “I knew they were going to soften the greens after yesterday and I just came out and played really solid.
“Anything was possible today. I could have gone even lower because I missed a lot of chances out there. I am not going to focus on (the money list). I am going to play hole by hole and do what I did today. I don’t know if I can swing any better than this and if I keep doing this, I am going to shoot low numbers.”
Casey took full advantage of the watered greens to gather in six birdies and said: “It’s amazing what a little bit of water on the greens can do. The pins are accessible now and good golf shots are rewarded.”
The Englishman, twice a winner on The European Tour this year, has an opportunity to accumulate a substantial amount of Ryder Cup points in the final round and added; “I would just like another round in the sixties and play solid golf. This course can bite you and hopefully I can just keep plugging away and hope for some breaks.”
Similarly Garrido, a Ryder Cup player in 1997, can expect to begin his 2004 Ryder Cup campaign with a decent haul of points, but Garrido admitted nothing is further from his mind at the moment.
“It has never, ever been a goal for me” he insisted. “It’s such a long term thing. If this was the last week of qualifying and someone said I needed to finish third, then it would be on my mind. But not now, almost a whole year ahead. Hopefully by next September it won’t be a problem.”
A group of eight players tied for 17th place on 214 include half a dozen European Tour Members in Thomas Björn of Denmark (67), N iclas Fasth (70), Padraig Harrington (69), Peter O’Malley (70), Eduardo Romero (68) and Lee Westwood (71). A further shot behind is Ian Poulter who fired a fine 68, the same score as fellow Englishman Brian Davis who is on six over par.
Darren Clarke, winner of the WGC – NEC Invitational in August, trimmed ten strokes from his second round of 82 to finished at 13 over par.