Originally created 08/17/97

Leonard, Love pull away

MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- The greens had the yellow sheen of aged wax on a linoleum floor and putted just as fast. The pressure was as suffocating as the stifling heat and humidity. Of the few who remained calm and cool at the PGA Championship on Saturday, Justin Leonard and Davis Love III were the best.

Leonard, the British Open champion trying to become the first to win consecutive majors since Nick Price in 1994, played with enormous control and never tried to impose his will on Winged Foot as he shot a course-record 65.

Love, trying to win the first major championship of his career, responded with some cool of his own on a sticky day when double and triple bogeys abounded.

Leonard and Love virtually eliminated everyone else in the field on a tense afternoon of golf interrupted by a two-hour rain delay.

A ticklish 8-foot, downhill birdie putt on the final hole gave Leonard the course record and a total of 7-under-par 203 after three rounds.

Love, playing three holes behind Leonard, made two 10-foot par-saving putts on Nos. 16 and 17, then made virtually the same putt as Leonard on the final green for a 66 that also left him at 203.

No one else was closer than seven strokes, setting up a Sunday shootout between the 25-year-old Leonard and the 33-year-old Love.

Leonard has the advantage of coming off a recent success while Love carries the burden of being one of the best golfers in the world without a major championship title.

"I think my experience from the British Open enabled me to play well today," Leonard said. "Having been in that situation just four weeks ago, I think I'll be able to draw on that experience and that should help me tomorrow."

On a day when the temperature climbed into the 90s and the humidity made it feel like 103 degrees, 15 players started the round under par but only Leonard and Love were in red numbers when play was suspended.

That broke the record-low of three players under par after three rounds set in the 1975 PGA at Firestone in Ohio.

Tom Kite, trying to fight his way onto the Ryder Cup team of which he is captain, was at even-par 210 along with Lee Janzen.

Tiger Woods, Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Scott Hoch and Jeff Maggert were at 211, eight strokes back.

The Winged Foot course, soft and somewhat receptive in the first two rounds, was in no joking mood on Saturday.

Strokes seemed to pour from the players like sweat.

"This afternoon it was a completely different golf course than we played the first couple of days," Love said. "The greens were a lot faster and a lot harder and a lot more difficult."

Among those who lost their cool was Woods, who made two double bogeys and shot a 71, and John Daly, who heaved his driver into the woods after hooking a tee shot at the 12th hole on the way to a 77 that left him at 216.

Leonard, however, was a picture of perfect calm as he manipulated his way around the course to a bogey-free round.

"I hit the ball more solidly today," Leonard said after he hit every fairway and 15 of the 18 greens, unlike his brilliant scrambling efforts of the first two rounds.

"I kept the ball in play and put the ball in the middle of the fairway," he said. "It seemed like I always had the right club and was pin-high all day. It's fun to be able to two-putt for pars."

Leonard needed only 50 putts the first two days as he continually made 5-footers for par. His driving and iron play was simply perfect on Saturday, taking the pressure off his putter and wedge.

"I just try to stay in the hole," Leonard said. "Guys are going to make mistakes out here."

Love, who has 10 career victories but has yet to win a major championship, also made few mistakes.

"I don't think I've ever been as comfortable in a big tournament with the way I'm playing," said Love, who needed to make a 12-foot putt to win the U.S. Open last year but three-putted to hand the victory to Steve Jones.

Love made only one bogey on a day when no aspect of the course was easy.

"You have to be really good off the tee, really good into the green and then all the work starts," Love said about the difficulty of the greens.

Greg Norman, who was in the hunt until he made a double bogey on No. 16 and a bogey at 17 to go to 3 over, said the "greens are 2 feet faster today than they were yesterday."

The round started with Janzen playing in the same group with Love and one stroke ahead of him at 4 under par. But a two-stroke swing at the sixth, when Love made a birdie and Janzen - who hit into a divot - made a bogey, put Love in the lead.

Janzen, the 1993 U.S. Open winner, fell further behind with bogeys at the 11th and the 14th holes.

Woods floated into and out of the picture as he once again was plagued by big-number holes in a major championship. He made a double bogey on No. 4 when he drove into the right rough, chunked it back to the fairway then hit the right bunker and couldn't get up-and-down.

He got a wake-up call on No. 10, the hole described by Ben Hogan as like hitting a 3-iron into someone's bedroom, when he made a par. He then birdied No. 11 with a shot to 2 feet and eagled the par-5 12th hole with a 30-foot putt.

Woods bogeyed No. 13 when he drove into the right rough. He then made a sensational birdie on the 16th hole when he drove into the left trees and hit a cut 5-iron from 157 yards under the limbs that bounced several times and trickled to within 9 feet of the hole.

But he finished with a double bogey and a bogey on the last two holes and walked off the final green as if he had injured himself hitting out of the thick rough.

"There's nothing wrong," Woods said. "I'm just angry."

Anger is not an emotion that will win at Winged Foot on Sunday.

If Leonard and Love can keep their cool in the final round it should be a compelling finish to the PGA Championship.


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