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Published: Sunday, 6/3/2007

MacKenzie in middle of hunt for Memorial title

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Will MacKenzie, who is four shots behind Memorial leader Rod Pampling, hits his approach shot on the par-4 18th hole at the Muirfield Village Golf Club en route to a third-round 65. Will MacKenzie, who is four shots behind Memorial leader Rod Pampling, hits his approach shot on the par-4 18th hole at the Muirfield Village Golf Club en route to a third-round 65.
JAY LAPRETE / AP Enlarge

DUBLIN, Ohio - His full name is William Ruggles Mac-

Kenzie, and you're probably curious about the middle name, but it is the least interesting part of his story.

MacKenzie, or Willie Mac, as he calls himself, is a professional kayaker and has more than dabbled in snowboarding and rock climbing. There is something called heliboarding where snowboarders jump out of a copter, its skids hovering over 4,000 vertical feet of powder, and "it's heaven, man," MacKenzie says.

He calls all this "the adventures of Willie Mac," and he is about as free a spirit to drop off a cliff and onto the PGA Tour since Champagne Tony Lema jumped out of a bottle of Dom Perignon. Heck, for five years MacKenzie lived out of his van in Montana.

He's living in a hotel this week and, if all goes well, Willie Mac could win Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament today. Really.

He shot a 65 yesterday and is four shots behind leader Rod Pampling, who birdied No. 18 in near-darkness for a 68 that left him at 15-under-par 201 entering the final round at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Sean O'Hair (69) and Adam Scott (even-par 72 after a bogey at No. 18) are at 12-under and trail Pampling by three shots.

MacKenzie calls his putting stroke "Badds.com," because he has copied Aaron Baddeley. He used to call his swing "Willie Mackington" because he copied Steve Elkington, but he said this week it's more like Stuart Appleby, making it "Willie Mappleby." Bogeys are "a real drag," and hitting it close is "stuffing it."

MacKenzie doesn't even mind weather delays, like the 2 1/2-hour version that took place here yesterday afternoon because of lightning.

He said he "hung out" with his idol, Tiger Woods, clinging to his every word, ate a lot of shrimp, and arranged with Camilo Villegas to get a batch of alligator belts.

"I don't necessarily agree with killing alligators, though," he said with a look of concern.

Birdies and eagles, well, that's a different story.

MacKenzie, 32, gave up golf after his sophomore year in high school and did a whole lot of stuff - kayak instructor, wilderness emergency medical technician and videographer, to name a few - before returning to the game on the Golden Bear Tour in 2003.

When it was mentioned that he has a chance to win the Golden Bear's tournament, he said, "man, that's amazing."

He'll tackle a four-shot deficit at the start today. He is tied with his putting idol, Baddeley, and Stewart Cink at 11-under. Cink matched MacKenzie's 65 while Baddeley had a 71.

Believe it or not, if MacKenzie were to win today it would not be his first PGA Tour victory. Last year, in 29 events, he finished in the top 10 just a single time. And it was when he won the Reno-Tahoe Open and landed a $540,000 payday.

Pampling is very much in the way of MacKenzie or anyone else grabbing this first prize.

"I know I'm playing good," said Pampling, who hit a spectacular 9-iron shot from a flat lie in a fairway bunker to within three feet for his birdie at No. 18. "We'll see if I can keep check of my emotions. With a three-shot lead, everybody will expect me to win, but anybody can score 7-under or 8-under out there. There's certainly the potential for somebody to come from a long way back."

Probably not from 11 shots, though, where three former Memorial champions - Woods, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh - are well off the pace in a group at

4-under 212.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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