- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2005

AKRON, Ohio — Kenny Perry was frustrated how his long day at the NEC Invitational ended yesterday.

Clearly, it had nothing to do with his golf.

Perry made seven birdies, two of them from off the green, to catch Tiger Woods for a share of the lead when storms finally suspended the on-again, off-again third round at Firestone Country Club. All he has left is a 10-foot birdie putt for a 63 that might put him in the lead.

How was his day?

“Pretty frustrating,” he said. “The day was great. The ending was not.”

Woods was through 15 holes and tied with Perry at 7 under after making his only bogey of the round. They are among 20 players who failed to finish the third round after spending at least 10 hours at Firestone.

First, storms suspended play for 3 hours, 11 minutes. After trudging back into position, play was stopped again after 16 minutes. Players waited around for two hours before being sent home.

“No one is really happy right now,” Woods said.

Woods had a two-shot lead through 14 holes when the first stoppage occurred. He was back on the course long enough to hit three full shots — none of them good — and wound up tied when he left the course.

The third round was to resume at 7:30a.m., with the leaders teeing off in the final round at 2:40 p.m.

Paul McGinley of Ireland was another shot back through 15 holes, while Stuart Appleby reached the 667-yard 16th hole in two shots for the second time this week and was 5 under through 16 holes. Two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal finished his round with a 66 and was the clubhouse leader at 4-under 206.

Woods returned after the first delay to face a delicate flop shot from left of the par-3 15th green. He hit it 10 feet past the hole, his par putt caught the right lip and he walked off the green cursing beneath his breath.

He followed that with a drive into deep rough to the left of the 16th fairway.

“I didn’t really put myself in very good shape on 16, so hopefully I can escape with a par there and make something happen the last couple of holes,” he said.

The start was no problem.

Woods ended his second round with a double bogey to slip into a tie for the lead with Luke Donald, and was in trouble on the opening hole with a 2-iron off the tee and into a bunker. But Woods saved par with a 6-foot putt, then quickly seized control with a good break and some good putting.

A tee shot headed for the left rough on the par-5 second bounced off a cart path and back to the fairway, leaving him only a 7-iron into 12 feet for a two-putt birdie. He hit wedge into 6 feet for a birdie on the third, and a 9-iron into 12 feet for a birdie on the 465-yard fourth hole.

He led by as many as three shots, and kept his cushion with an unlikely par on the 11th. His ball buried in deep grass just off the 11th fairway, Woods could only advance it 60 yards into more rough, blocked by a tree, with the pin tucked behind a bunker. He pitched it through the branches to 25 feet and made it to keep his momentum.

Then came the weather delays, and plenty of complaints.

Perry was repairing his pitch mark on the 18th green when the siren sounded a second time, and he has been on the PGA Tour long enough to know what was coming — waiting around for a few hours, setting the alarm clock early to be back on the course.

John Daly, who was at 1 under and also on the 18th green, got into a heated discussion with rules official Mike Shea. Thomas Bjorn, at 3 under in the final group, tossed his towel to the ground.

“You’ve still got to get spectators off and get them safe. I understand that,” Perry said. “I’m not a weatherman. If they thought it was close, I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

Perry still had enough time to deliver some entertainment.

He was trying to escape with par after hitting into the trees on the ninth hole, and it turned out even better when he holed a 50-foot putt for birdie from just off the green. He went from despair to delight on the 16th hole, where his sand wedge flew into the cup, popped out and went 25 feet away just off the green. He wound up making that one for birdie, anyway.

It was the third time in the last two weeks Perry has hit the flag. His shot on the 17th at Baltusrol in the first round spun in the cup for eagle, and he hit the cup and flew out on the 10th hole in the final round of the PGA Championship. That one spun off the green.

“Kind of ironic how it’s been going,” Perry said.

The only thing that didn’t surprise him was hearing a siren and knowing there would be an early wake-up call.

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