Sunday, 20 August 2006

On a day of stupendous shot-making at Medinah Country Club – which saw no fewer than ten players share the lead at one juncture – England’s Luke Donald proved the equal of Tiger Woods by matching the World’s Number One shot for shot to move into the final day of the 88th US PGA Championship tied with the American superstar.

Although Woods signed for one stroke less than Donald – a 65 to a 66 – their matching totals of 202, 14 under par, mean that the pair will go head to head in a Sunday spectacular with the season’s final Major on the line.

For Donald, the scent of a first Major – and the first for any European since 1999 – will be pervading his nostrils while Woods can get two-thirds of the way towards his goal of emulating Jack Nicklaus’s 18 Majors by capturing a 12th over the Medinah course at which he won his first US PGA seven years ago.

“To be honest I wasn’t watching leaderboards so I didn’t know that I would be playing with Tiger tomorrow” said Donald in his customary under-stated fashion. “I knew I was there or thereabouts, but it’s going to be great. I am looking forward to going out and giving my best.”

Low scores were almost commonplace as the final Major of 2006 turned into a white-hot competition. First Canadian Mike Weir ripped out a succession of birdies to card a new course record of 65 and a 12 under par total of 203 and outright third place. Woods promptly equalled that score thanks to three successive birdies from the 13th to trump Weir’s total by two.

Donald then produced a miraculous recovery for a par at the 16th and launched a six iron to a few feet for a two at the 17th to shoot his six under par 66 to join Woods in the clubhouse on 14 under. New US Open Champion Geoff Ogilvy then trained his sights on a second Major of the year by shooting a 68 for 11 under par with past winner Shaun Micheel tied for fifth on ten under alongside Sergio Garcia of Spain, whose round of 67 might have been a few shots lower but for some narrow misses on the greens.

No European has won any major since 1999 and none has lifted this trophy since Tommy Armour way back in 1930. But after three birdies in the first five holes of his third round Donald, joint halfway leader with Swede Henrik Stenson and Americans Billy Andrade and Tim Herron, delivered a clear declaration of intent.

Such was the low scoring at Medinah  following overnight rain that when Donald made a 12 foot par putt on the first it was not only to remain to eight under par, but to stay one of an amazing ten players on the same mark.

Then, however, the former Walker Cup star made putts of 18 and 20 feet on the next two greens and then also birdied the fifth and sixth he was up to 12 under - one more than the mark with which Woods won seven years ago when he held off a teenage Garcia on the final day.

With Medinah's greens made even more receptive by Friday's late rain, players were taking dead aim at the flags and birdies came by the bucket load. "It doesn't seem like a major in a sense," Woods said. "Generally in a major championship you make mostly pars and sprinkle in a couple of birdies. Today was totally different. You had to go out and make a bunch of birdies."

Weir delivered a masterclass in approach play to vault into contention. The Canadian left-hander, whose only major victory came at the 2003 Masters, peppered the flags all day at a rain-softened Medinah before completing that sparkling 65.

"It was a special day, and a lot of fun," the 36 year old commented. "It was one of those days that even when I was aiming away from the flag, I seemed to push it right at the flag or pull it stiff.

"I just happened to have my irons dialled in really well today. I drove it pretty good but my irons were really, really solid."

Asked how his short game matched up to when he won the 2003 Masters, Weir replied: "I would say it's pretty close. Today was obviously a great day but I think, on the whole, it's getting closer to that. I think that's been the part of my game that's been holding me back a little bit.”

As for Stenson, Andrade and Herron they found themselves almost buried in the rush of birdies elsewhere. The Swede bogeyed the first and fourth, reached the turn in 38 and took six at the tenth, but played the remaining holes in an admirable two under par for a share of 12th place going into the last round.

Donald's compatriot Ian Poulter was among those who caught the birdie mood of the day. Four under overnight he went to the turn in 33, then added another birdie at the 11th. A further birdie at the 15th and a dropped shot at the 13th left Poulter at eight under par with a round to play.

  “It will take a very low round for me to win” admitted Poulter, still seeking to  qualify for his second Ryder Cup appearance next month. “But Mike Weir showed what could be done and I would need something like that to have a chance. It should be an interesting day.”

There was an early indication that this was going to be a spectacular day's scoring.At the fifth American Joey Sindelar holed a three-wood for the first albatross in any major since England's Gary Evans in the 2004 Open at Royal Troon and just the third in the event's history.

Justin Rose, playing his first major for two years, had a 70 for three under, but Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell had to be content with a level par 72 for one under and David Howell and Lee Westwood were unable to make the move they really wanted.

Howell finished with a 73 for one under, while Westwood, three under overnight, picked up birdies at the 14th and 16th to finish with a71 and a four under par total of 212.


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