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DUBLIN, Ohio - Leave it to Fred Couples to succinctly sum up the state of affairs in the Memorial Tournament heading into today s final round.
“I ve got Ernie Els ahead of me, Tiger Woods behind me, and a couple pretty good golfers even with me,” Couples said yesterday. “I ve got a great shot at winning, which doesn t happen very often, but it s going to take another great round of golf because there are some good players up there.”
Indeed. Els, who authored a 66 in the third round, is two shots clear of the field at 12-under-par 204. Couples is tied with K.J. Choi and Justin Rose at 206 while Woods lurks another shot behind at 9 under, tied with Stephen Ames.
Woods, as always, is the magic ingredient and everyone, Els included, is aware of his presence.
“He s definitely a factor,” Els said. “I ll be watching the leaderboards. I ll have to be aware of what s going on around me. Tiger is Tiger. He may not be hitting the ball as solidly as four or five years ago, but his mind and the way he approaches the game, he gives it 110 percent. He s going to be right there tomorrow.”
Woods, who fired a 67 yesterday, said it would take more of the same to climb to the top today.
“It all depends on the wind and how conservative it forces you to be, but there are so many guys with chances to win that pars aren t going to do much for you,” he said. “It s going to take another score like this. I ll have to make birdies. How many? Well, if I make 18, I ll be looking pretty good.”
It was a birdie on the par-5 15th hole yesterday that made Woods day. He was coming off of a bogey at No. 14 when he tried to be too cute with a tough bunker shot and left his ball in the trap. Then, his approach to No. 15 went way left, hit a spectator and caromed down a slope away from the green.
“It was one of those great up-and-downs, although I feel bad I hit somebody,” Woods said. “The ball was 50 yards to the fringe, and I just wanted to hit it that number, then let it run down past the hole. It came off perfect, landed on the fringe, rolled down to the opposite fringe, and I made a 12-footer.
Woods will be paired with Ames, who had a 70 yesterday. Choi (68) and Rose (69) will go off next-to-last before Els and Couples hook up for the second straight day.
That final pairing brings together good friends and great swings. After all, before Els became the Big Easy, it was Couples who was considered to have the easiest, sweetest swing in golf.
“I love to play with Ernie,” the 44-year-old Couples said. “He s got such a beautiful swing and he hits it a mile.”
But who s the real Big Easy?
“It s Ernie, definitely,” Couples said. “I can get pretty edgy the way I ve been playing the last five years.”
Added Els: “There s nobody easier than me.”
Few made it look easier yesterday. He made nice recoveries to save strokes on Nos. 11 and 13, where he hit wayward tee shots, and got a bad break when his drive hit a TV tripod on No. 15 and bounced into the rough. But he still made the first of back-to-back birdies there and had six during a bogey-free round.
Els played aggressively, using his driver off nine tees. Woods, on the other hand, employed his driver just twice.
“It put me in position to hit some nice iron shots and I made some good putts,” Els said.
Couples 68 was highlighted by a 70-yard approach shot - he d had to chip almost sideways out of a fairway pot bunker - that landed in the hole at No. 17. Earlier, he fluffed a bunker shot onto the fringe at the seventh hole and chipped in for birdie from about 15 feet.
“I made an 80-footer for eagle and chipped in on another hole [Friday], and then chipped in and holed a 70-yard shot today,” Couples said. “So there s a lot of luck involved. I guess it will even out when I start ricocheting balls off trees and into junk. But I hope it waits until next week to start evening out.”
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