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Published: Sunday, 6/15/2003

Furyk takes 3-shot lead; Singh fades

BY GERRY DULAC
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
Jim Furyk's score of 10-under-par 200 is the lowest three-round score in the history of the U.S. Open. Jim Furyk's score of 10-under-par 200 is the lowest three-round score in the history of the U.S. Open.
M. SPENCER GREEN / AP Enlarge

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. - Jim Furyk's swing might look funny, with his hands so low and that big whirly-bird loop at the top. But there is nothing laughable about the shots his unorthodox style can produce.

Furyk will learn a little bit more about his swing today. In particular, he will discover if it can stand up to the pressure of carrying a three-shot lead into the final round of the 103rd U.S. Open.

“I'm excited about the day,” Furyk said. “I'd rather always have the lead. I just have to shoot that much less tomorrow to win the golf tournament.”

Furyk, a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour, has never won a major championship. But he put himself in good position yesterday with a 67 that left him at 10-under 200 after three rounds of the national championship at Olympia Fields Country Club, the lowest 54-hole score in U.S. Open history.

Furyk has never held the lead heading to the final round of a major championship. Nor has he ever held a three-shot lead heading to the final round of any tournament. But that's the cushion he will carry on Stephen Leaney of Australia when they tee off at 4 p.m. in the final twosome today.

“I had about a six-shot lead with nine holes to play in Vegas one year,” Furyk said. “But for the most part I don't think I've sat overnight on Saturday with a three-shot lead before. I'll try to draw from some experiences in the past and times I've been in contention.”

Leaney, who birdied two of the final four holes to shoot 68, is at 7-under 203, the previous 54-hole scoring record in the Open. But he sneaked into the second spot after Vijay Singh bogeyed the final three holes and four of the last seven to shoot 72.

Singh, the No. 4 player in the world, is tied with Nick Price at 205, five shots behind Furyk. Price, 46, who began the round with four consecutive birdies, ended it with a 2-foot birdie at No. 18 to shoot 69.

“Jimmy is playing very well,” said Singh, who was paired with Furyk. “I have to go out and catch up. I don't expect Jimmy to slip up too much.”

Furyk, who tied Singh for the lowest 36-hole score in U.S. Open history at 133, has a chance to become only the second player in U.S. Open history to finish with a double-digit total under par. Tiger Woods became the first when he finished at 12-under 272 in the 2000 Open at Pebble Beach.

What's more, each of the past four Open winners has held or shared the lead going into the final round.

“I would say that doesn't really matter,” Furyk said, who has 11 top-10 finishes in major championships. “Stephen Leaney doesn't think it matters. Nick Price. Vijay Singh. None of that matters. I just need to go out and play a solid round of golf.”

Furyk set up the mad chase with a round that included five birdies and two bogeys. His final two birdies were no gimmes either - 40 feet at No. 15 and 25 feet at No. 18. The final-hole birdie was even more improbable because Furyk had an awkward lie in the rough and had to chop a sand wedge 125 yards to the front of the green.

Nonetheless, it came at a good time because Furyk was still agonizing over a short 5-foot miss for par at No. 17.

“The 17th left a sour taste in my mouth,” Furyk said. “It was important for me to finish off the hole well.”

It is not surprising that Furyk and Singh are at or near the top of the leader board. With the possible exception of Kenny Perry, they are the hottest players on the PGA Tour. Furyk has finished in the top five in six of his past nine tournaments and is sixth on the money list. Singh has finished first (Byron Nelson), second (Wachovia) and fourth (Memorial) in his past three outings and is fourth on the money list with $3,149,642.

Leaney, though, is another matter. A three-time winner on the European PGA Tour, he is appearing in only his second Open championship. In four appearances this year on the PGA Tour, his best finish was a tie for 25th at Bay Hill.

Leaney tried to earn his exempt status for the PGA Tour, but he missed by a shot during the final stage of qualifying school in the fall.

“To have a chance to win this week is great,” Leaney said. “But I really want to get my card. If I play well, hopefully I'll achieve that.”

If Woods wants to defend the title he won last year at Bethpage Black, he will have to perform the greatest comeback in U.S. Open history. Woods, who began the day three shots from the lead, shot 75 and is at 211, 11 shots back. The largest final-round comeback in Open history was seven shots by Arnold Palmer in 1960.

“I need to shoot a great round of golf and get some help from the others,” Woods said. “You never know. Go post a number and see what happens.”

Woods isn't the only former U.S. Open champion who might have shot his way out of the tournament. Tom Watson, who began the day four shots back, also shot 75 to likely end his chance of becoming the oldest player to win the U.S. Open.

“I wanted to shoot 68,” said Watson, 53. “I was eight fairways shy of 68.”

Singh, coming off a record-tying 63 in the second round, appeared flawless early in the round and was tied with Furyk through 11 holes. But he bogeyed four of the final seven holes, including a disappointing three-putt at No. 16.

“It was very easy to get on the wrong side of the hole,” Singh said. “But there's no reason to make three bogeys on the last three holes. I'm a little disappointed with the way I finished.”

Price got off to the day's fastest start, making birdies on the first four holes to briefly jump into the lead at eight under before Singh and Furyk teed off. But Price bogeyed the ninth hole, then followed with bogeys at Nos. 11 and 12.

Leaney had three birdies on the front and got within a shot of the lead at eight under, but he made double-bogey at No. 10 and bogeyed the 11th to start his mind-round tumble.

Jonathan Byrd, 25, playing in his first U.S. Open, is tied with Dicky Pride, Ian Leggatt and Eduardo Romero at 206.

Masters champion Mike Weir and defending British Open champ Ernie Els are tied with Justin Leonard at 208.

“I'd probably have to shoot a Johnny Miller-like round tomorrow,” said Weir, referring to Miller's 63 in the final round of the 1973 Open at Oakmont. “You never know, it could happen.”

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Gerry Dulac is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.



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