Mon, Aug 14, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Zach Johnson in control at the International

AP , CASTLE ROCK, COLORADO

Zach Johnson knocks fists with his caddie after finishing the third round of the International in first place at Castle Pines Golf Club, near Castle Rock, Colorado, on Saturday.

PHOTO: AFP

Zach Johnson birdied five holes and eagled another for a 15-point third round and the lead at the International on Saturday.

Even though he missed four makable birdie putts and bogeyed one of the five holes he had to play at dawn to complete his rain-delayed second round, Johnson had an inkling this was going to be his day at the International.

Sure enough, his opportunistic third round helped him claim the 54-hole lead at golf's most novel event, one which features two cuts and uses the modified Stableford scoring system.

"I had a makable birdie putt on 5, 6, 7 and 8 and then I actually made a good bogey on 9," Johnson said. "It was unfortunate, I hit one in the water on 9, but at the same time, I made a pretty good save."

The 30-year-old player went to the clubhouse at Castle Pines club feeling good about his game instead of lamenting his lost opportunities.

That positive attitude paid off for Johnson, whose 27 points heading into yesterday were one more than Steve Flesch and two more than Stewart Cink and Ian Leggatt. Tom Lehman is three points behind in fifth place.

But this isn't like stroke play. Big changes are the norm at the International, the only stop on the US PGA Tour that uses the special scoring system that awards five points for eagles, two for birdies, nothing for pars and deducts one for bogeys and three for double-bogeys or worse.

So, mathematically, just about all of the 33 remaining golfers have a shot at the US$990,000 winner's check.

"The point system kind of keeps it real going into the last day," said Flesch, who has yet to eagle and is kicking himself for not playing more aggressively before Round 3 on the lush 6,967m layout.

Johnson, 30, who won the 2004 BellSouth Classic in his first year on the tour, was among half the field of 140 golfers who had to return to Castle Pines at dawn to complete the second round. Play was delayed more than three hours by a thunderstorm on Friday afternoon that dumped more than 2cm of rain on the majestic mountain course.

Finishing on the front nine, Johnson's putter failed him for four holes before he teed off into the water, providing no hint to anybody but himself of what was to come.

When the top 70 golfers who made the first cut teed off again for Round 3, Johnson holed out from 96 yards from the fairway for an eagle on the first hole.

"Making that eagle was huge. It brings confidence, it brings momentum," said Johnson, who birdied four of his last five holes. "You jump a lot of people and that's the beauty of this format."

Just before he eagled, a bee landed on Johnson's ball, forcing a bit of a delay.

"You can't touch your golf ball but you can kind of [shoo] the bee off," he said. "And eventually it moved. It was probably a wasp or a hornet or something, I don't know. It was big. I didn't want to kill it."

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