- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2002

THOMASTOWN, Ireland (AP) Despite no bogeys over the first 54 holes and his largest lead in two years, Tiger Woods figures he needs one more round of good golf to capture the American Express Championship.
Everyone else might need a lot more than that.
"It will take something in the 50s to catch him," Jerry Kelly said after spending yesterday watching Woods put on another clinic at Mount Juliet. Woods didn't hit the ball as crisply as he did the first two days, but he still produced a nonchalant round of 5-under 67 on a stunningly gorgeous afternoon in Ireland.
Birdies on the final two holes, the last one following a 5-iron that stopped four feet from the cup, left Woods at 197 and gave him a five-stroke lead over a half-dozen players, none of whom sounded overly optimistic about his chances.
"Tiger is playing awfully well," Steve Lowery said. "I think I'll need the round of my life to beat him."
Scott McCarron set a course record with a 64. He was at 202 and will be paired with Woods in the final group today. They also played Mount Juliet together, along with Mark O'Meara, the week before the British Open in July.
Woods beat him that day, although McCarron had an excuse. He celebrated his 37th birthday the previous day and wasn't exactly in fighting form.
"It was a tough round for him," Woods recalled with a smile.
Lowery, who has made only one bogey this week, didn't make enough birdies yesterday and wound up with a 69. Also in the group at 202 were Vijay Singh (66), Retief Goosen (68), Kelly (70) and David Toms (69).
What will it take to beat Woods?
"Something lower than Scott McCarron's 64," Toms said. "I think I could shoot something lower, post it and see what happens."
Rocco Mediate had a 67, and at 203 was asked if that put him in contention.
"I don't know what the man's up to," he said, as Woods was still on the course. "If you're five or six behind, there's not much of a chance."
Woods now has gone 64 holes without a bogey, dating to the NEC Invitational at Sahalee. That put him in position to build on an even more daunting streak.
He is ruthless with the 54-hole lead 29-4 worldwide when he has at least a share of the lead going into the final round. The last time he failed to win was the 2001 Dubai Desert Classic, when Thomas Bjorn overcame a one-stroke deficit.
This time the margin is five, Woods' largest lead since he led by nine over Phillip Price going into the last day at the 2000 NEC Invitational, another World Golf Championship event. He went on to win by 11 shots.
Woods' largest third-round lead ever was 10 strokes in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and even then he refused to claim the tournament was over.
"This golf course, you can shoot some low numbers on it," Woods said. "The greens are so good, anyone can come out tomorrow and shoot a low one. I have to keep making birdies and playing well."
They didn't come that easily yesterday. Even though Woods finally drove the ball well he missed only one fairway, by two feet he rarely gave himself good looks at birdie.
The par 5s were another story. Woods looked away in disgust after belting his driver on the eighth hole, thinking it hopped into a bunker. Instead, it kicked into the fairway, and he hit a 3-iron from 255 yards that stopped 18 feet to the right, even with the pin.
He came close to a bogey twice, but relied on a deft short game.
On the par-3 sixth, his chip from thick rough was so pure that it looked as though Woods lobbed it onto the green like a church-league softball pitcher. He made a 6-footer for par there, then holed another 6-footer on the 13th for par.
Woods has never played a 72-hole event without a bogey. He didn't say that would mean more to him than winning the Ryder Cup, but it would bring some measure of satisfaction.
It would mean I not only played well, I really grinded well the entire week, sucked it up and made those big par putts," Woods said. "And I've done that the first three days."
Also on his mind is another World Golf Championship. He has already won four of them, at least one every year since the series began in 1999. Because he is not likely to play in the World Cup at the end of the year, this is his last chance.
"You take pride in competing against the best players in the world," he said. "And hopefully, beating them."
That looks like a strong probability at Mount Juliet.
The Jack Nicklaus design has generous landing areas and perfect greens, so pure that McCarron raised his arms when his bunker shot on No.16 was still 10 feet from the hole. He knew it was going in.
With the Ryder Cup next week, Woods appears to have his game in order.
"Ball striking, I think I've hit the ball better at the U.S. Open this year," he said. "Putting, controlling my pace on each and every putt, ranks up there with Augusta."
He won both those majors.


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