Mon, Jul 23, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Garcia leads by three at Carnoustie

AP , CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND

Spain's Sergio Garcia hits a shot on the 12th fairway during the third round of the British Open at Carnoustie, Scotland, on Saturday. Garcia finished the round with a three-stroke lead.

PHOTO: AP

Sergio Garcia played close to perfection on Saturday at the British Open with a 3-under 68 that gave him a three-shot lead over Steve Stricker with no one else closer than six shots.

The cheers grew louder as Garcia crossed the bridge over Barry Burn toward the 18th green at Carnoustie, a reception so warm it gave him chills. He removed his cap in a steady rain and soaked up the adulation.

It was a scene fit for a coronation at the British Open.

For Garcia, the odds have never been better. He has never played better or felt so confident.

And while this will be the third time he has played in the final group at a major, there are two drastic differences.

He has the lead this time and Tiger Woods won't be at his side.

"It definitely doesn't hurt," Garcia said. "But it doesn't matter. At the end of the day, I only depend on myself."

Garcia finished off his bogey-free round with a 5-iron that headed straight for the flag and sent him chasing after it, screaming out instructions as if to guide the ball.

"Oh, be good," he said.

It hopped onto the green and stopped 4m left of the flag and the only disappointment was having to settle for par.

"I wanted to make the putt on 18 just for them and to hear the roar, that would have been just out of this world," said Garcia, who was at 9-under 204 and holding the 54-hole lead in a major for the first time.

Stricker might have to match his record round to give Garcia a fight. He ran off three straight birdies at the start on Saturday and was equally impressive with four par saves at the end for a 64, the best score ever at Carnoustie during a British Open.

"It was just one of those rounds where everything kind of went right," Stricker said. "It was quite a day. It was quite an experience. It was a lot of fun and it gives myself a chance going into tomorrow."

Whether anyone else has a chance depends on Garcia.

The 27-year-old Spaniard has held a 54-hole lead nine times in his career and he has converted only five of them. Two years ago at the Wachovia Championship, he squandered a six-shot lead in the final round and lost in a playoff.

"He's got a lot of things to think about tonight," Ernie Els said. "I've been in that position many times. It's not an easy sleep."

Els, a three-time major winner, overcame a triple-bogey 8 on the easiest hole at Carnoustie to shoot a 68, leaving him in the large group at 3-under 210 that included Chris DiMarco (66), Padraig Harrington (68) and K.J. Choi (72).

One guy Garcia won't have to think about is Woods.

Trying to become the first player in more than 50 years to win the British Open three straight time, Woods beaned a 63-year-old woman in the head. It left her bandaged and bleeding and Woods queasy at the sight of blood on the links.

He wound up with a 69, leaving him eight shots behind at 1-under 212. Woods has never won a major from behind and only once has he made up an eight-shot deficit on the final day of any tournament -- the 1998 Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand.

"I've got to be playing a little better than I have been, that's for sure," Woods said. "But at least I gave myself a chance going into tomorrow. Paul [Lawrie] came from 10 back in 1999. Certainly, you can do it around this golf course."

Yes, but Lawrie needed a triple bogey from Jean Van de Velde on the final hole in 1999. The Frenchman was a newcomer to this arena back then.

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