- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 9, 2004

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Arron Oberholser felt like he was going to pass out from the steamy heat. Instead, he passed everyone and wound up alone atop the Wachovia Championship.

As temperatures approached 90 degrees, Oberholser holed a 20-foot eagle putt to jump-start his back nine, then surged past a pack of contenders and left Tiger Woods far behind.

Oberholser finished with a 4-under 68 yesterday for a one-shot lead and another chance for his first PGA Tour victory.

“I was half in a fog because my blood sugar was so low,” said Oberholser, a Bay Area native whose idea of warm is something around 70. “I know the folks around here are like, ‘This is nothing.’ It’s tough on my body.”

A three-putt bogey on the 18th left Oberholser at 11-under 205. Geoff Ogilvy matched the best round of the day with a bogey-free 66 and was at 206 along with Notah Begay (69).

Woods was running hot, too, but that had more to do with his temper.

His two-shot lead was gone in 30 minutes, and his swing was not far behind. By the end of the day, Woods resorted to a safe slice off the tee with the hope of keeping the ball somewhere on the property. Even that wasn’t entirely successful, and he wound up with a 75 that left him five shots behind.

It was his highest score in 24 previous times when he had the second-round lead.

“I didn’t have it at all,” Woods said.

He still has an outside chance, along with some 20 other guys. It was such a bizarre day at Quail Hollow that there was a five-way tie for the lead in the middle of the round, and seven players had a share of the lead at some point.

Vijay Singh wasn’t among them, but he might be by this afternoon.

So chaotic was the leader board that Singh was seven shots behind when he stood on the tee of the dangerous par-3 17th. He finished with two birdies, and while pounding balls on the range after his round, he was only four back. Singh, who played the par 5s in 1 over, still shot 71 and was at 209.

“If the leaders don’t do any more, I think I’ve got a chance tomorrow because I’m playing really good,” said Singh, trying to become the first player since Woods at the end of the 1999 season to win three straight weeks on the PGA Tour.

Masters champion Phil Mickelson was bedeviled by the greens again and shot 72, six shots behind.

Oberholser, who challenged Woods as the top collegian while at San Jose State, never has won on tour, but this isn’t the first time he has been in this position.

Three months ago, he went into the final round at Pebble Beach tied for the lead. Of course, he was tied with Singh, the hottest player in golf, and didn’t have much of a chance. Singh hit three bad tee shots but made three birdies, while Oberholser was simply overwhelmed on his way to a 76.

“One thing I learned playing with Vijay is you can hit bad shots and still be under par,” Oberholser said. “I’m just going to play the golf course. If someone comes out of the pack and grabs me, so be it. Once you start playing the man, you’re a dead man.”

The circumstances will be slightly different today.

Not only does he have the lead to himself, he will be paired with Ogilvy, another guy who never has held a trophy or an oversized PGA Tour check during Sunday ceremonies.

“The position is perfect,” Ogilvy said. “Around this course, you can make up a lot ground very quick, and you can drop back pretty quick. It’s a pretty tough course.”

Begay was along for the ride when his putter got hot on the back nine. He made three straight birdies, two-putted for par from about 90 feet on the 16th, made a rare birdie on the 17th and then saved par with about a 10-foot putt on the final hole.

“I expect a dogfight,” Begay said of the final round.

Jeff Maggert (67) was at 9-under 207, while the group at 208 included Carlos Franco (69) and Kirk Triplett (71). All three were in the lead at various times. So was Davis Love III until he chopped up the 11th hole and made double bogey, sending him to a 72. He was at 5-under 211, along with Mickelson.

Still, the wild day was made possible by Woods.

The best closer in golf — 18 straight victories with at least a share of the 36-hole lead — hardly looked the part on a steamy afternoon with swirling breezes. Twice in the three holes, Woods tried to save par from off the green and failed both times, losing his two-shot lead by the time he got to the fourth tee.

By then, it was wide open at Quail Hollow, and Woods was all over the place.

He had to make a 30-footer for par on No.9 after hitting into the trees twice down the left side. On No.10, where most players reached in two, Woods had 190 yards in the rough for his third shot. He had to carve a shot out of the right trees on No.11, the left trees on No.12.

Starting on No.9, Woods didn’t hit a single fairway until the 18th hole — though on No.14 he hit driver some 320 yards to the green for a two-putt birdie.

“You’re not used to seeing that out of Tiger,” Oberholser said. “We’ve all been there. We’ve all done that. When it’s not your day, it’s not your day for one reason or another.”

Everyone had reason to believe it was their day yesterday. At the end, it belonged to Oberholser.

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