- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 10, 2008

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich.

Day 3 at the 90th PGA Championship was a wash for virtually everyone but Andres Romero.

The Argentine became the first player all week to slay the Monster, surging from near the cut-line to contention with a third-round 65, which matched the competitive course record at Oakland Hills.

“I played an excellent round, almost perfect,” said the 27-year-old (2-over 212), who posted seven birdies and moved within three strokes of 36-hole leader J.B. Holmes. “I can’t believe it. I have a great chance for tomorrow.”

Romero’s chances hinge on what transpires Sunday morning. Because moments after Romero posted his score, a series of electrical storms halted play for the day at 2:16 p.m. with 48 players yet to complete the third round.

The bulk of the contenders around Romero on the leader board played only a hole or two before the storms arrived. Holmes and five others hadn’t struck their opening tee shots when the horn sounded, heralding the beginning of a three-cell onslaught of thunderstorms that lasted for the better part of five hours.

After listening to two days of griping from players and media, the PGA of America softened the setup before the start of Saturday’s third round. They shaved an inch off the rough. They soaked the greens. They stuck pins in relatively accessible places. The alterations resulted in 25 players completing third-round play with an average score of 73.3 - 1.7 strokes better than the precut scoring average.

The course played much easier Saturday, and that’s before Mother Nature added nearly an inch of rain to strip away Oakland Hills’ defenses. While it’s unlikely any player will post a better number than Romero’s 65 in Sunday’s third-round conclusion, it’s equally unlikely to expect the majority of the 15 players leading or tied with him to fall back on the susceptible track.

In all likelihood, Romero will begin the final round even further adrift of the 54-hole leader and in worse standing than his tie for eighth place. But a couple of factors work to his advantage. First, unlike the other challengers, his day won’t be a two-round odyssey. And second, the soggy conditions turns Oakland Hills into a bombers’ paradise, a layout best-exploited by massive hitters with aggressive attitudes. Few players remaining in the field fit that description better than Romero.

“I am an attacking player,” Romero said. “That is my style.”

That was never more obvious than during last year’s British Open, when Romero nearly claimed the claret jug at Carnoustie. Playing well ahead of the leaders in the finale, Romero posted 10 birdies and arrived at the 17th tee with a two-stroke lead on the field. But he played the final two holes at 3 over to finish one stroke removed from the playoff Padraig Harrington won over Sergio Garcia.

“I learned a lot from that experience,” Romero said. “I was a lot stronger after that.”

Romero collected his debut European Tour victory the next week against a strong field in the Deutsche Bank Players Championship. In those two weeks, he jumped from 114th to 29th in the world rankings.

He relocated to this side of the Atlantic for this season and collected his first PGA Tour victory in New Orleans. He finished tied for eighth at the Masters a couple of weeks later and gained invaluable experience from pairings with the world’s top three players: Tiger Woods (Saturday), Phil Mickelson (Thursday and Friday) and Harrington (Sunday).

He used that experience Friday at Oakland Hills in the form of blossoming maturity, rebounding from an opening-nine 42 with a closing-nine 36 to survive the cut.

“I could not forgive myself for that eight,” he said. “I made a double-bogey at the 18th because I was [still] mad. I go from fighting for the lead in the tournament to fighting to make the cut. … But eventually I calm down.”

He calmed down Friday, heated up Saturday and needs an epic Sunday salvo to make amends for his crash at Carnoustie.

“I am a far different player, much more experienced, more confident,” Romero said. “Maybe this time at a major it will be different.”

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