- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 5, 2009

For a few minutes Saturday - after Tiger Woods eagled the par-5 ninth to open a three-shot lead - it looked like the host of the AT&T; National was ready to take everybody to the Woods-shed. We’ve seen him, after all, do it so many times before, suddenly shift his game into a gear only he seems to possess. Tiger with a three-stroke cushion at the turn on Saturday is an invitation to a blowout, to the rest of the field throwing up their hands and playing for second place.

But Congressional’s Blue Course, which has been awfully accommodating this week thanks to the rain, still has a couple of teeth left in its head. And one of the sharpest is the 489-yard 11th, a former par 5 that’s among the hardest holes on the Tour. There’s water on the right, the bunkers guarding the left of the green swallow scores of approach shots and a par 4 is a very good score here - so good that the greatest player in the world is still looking for one.

Yup, Woods bogeyed No. 11 - “not a realistic [par] 4,” in his opinion - in the first round, bogeyed it again in the second and doubled it Saturday, knocking his third shot from one greenside bunker to another. And with that, the entire tournament did a 180. Instead of a Tiger runaway, we had something much more appealing - heavy congestion at the top of the leader board and absolutely no clue about who’s going to win this thing.

Could we ask for anything more?

For starters, Woods still has a share of the lead at 10 under and will spend Sunday in the company of 24-year-old Anthony Kim, the tournament’s defending champ. Final-round pairings don’t get much better than that. Should either of them run aground, though, there are other interesting names in contention, including Jim Furyk (8 under), U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover (7 under) and, easily the best story of the bunch, 50-year-old Michael Allen, whose 65 Saturday left him just a stroke behind Woods and Kim - and tied with almost as anonymous Cameron Beckman.

If it all sounds a bit confusing, maybe that’s because it is. Woods has always been a pretty good bet in these situations - kind of like Man O’ War going off at 1-to-100 - but his scores have been going in the wrong direction (64-66-70). Beckman, on the other hand, has been shooting lower every day (68-67-66) and is the only one of the leaders who can make that claim.

(But let’s not get too carried away with the guy. I mean, he’s 39, has won just twice on the PGA Tour and has made so many trips to Qualifying School - 10 - that he could probably find his way there blindfolded.)

As good a final group as Woods-Kim is, Woods-Allen might have been even better - for its sheer incongruity. According to Michael, who has been toiling on the Tour for 20 years, he and Tiger have played together only once - for nine holes. “I think my caddie turned my bag toward him so he could read my name and know who I was,” he said.

(He shouldn’t feel too bad, though. Woods said he played with Sam Snead for only two holes in his entire life - “when I was 5, I think.”)

Allen is trying to do what Tom Kite couldn’t quite finish off in the 2005 Booz Allen - win at Congressional after turning 50. (Kite was 55.) And if he pulls it off, well, it would be like that Six Flags geezer winning “Dancing with the Stars.”

Michael - as you may have heard a few hundred times in recent days - is 0-for-forever on the Tour (0-for-336 to be exact). But he won the Senior PGA in May, and for some strange reason, he said, “I just happen to be playing a whole lot better as I’ve gotten older. I think,” he joked, “I’m overcoming the fear of losing now.”

Fear is an emotion that’s utterly foreign to Woods - or so he’d have us believe. The same goes for the ultra-confident Kim, who carded a 68 to pull even with Tiger.

“I’m excited to be [playing with him],” he said. “I’m excited for the opportunity. There’s not too many chances you get to play the best player in the world at his own golf tournament. I’ve won this tournament before, and I have a good chance to play well [Sunday].”

Woods, weary from a round of 70 that featured “wind [that] was all over the place,” as he put it, and “countless lag putts,” plans to save his excitement until Sunday. “No sense in wasting energy,” he said.

Only two shots separate the top six players. And Woods and Kim will be squaring off in the last group. It promises to be the best day in Washington golf since Ernie Els, Colin Montgomerie and Tom Lehman duked it out in the final round of the ‘97 Open.

And, given Tiger’s and Anthony’s capabilities, there’s even the possibility it’ll be better.

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