Originally created 05/12/02

Maruyama builds three-stroke lead



IRVING, Texas -- Ernie Els made a big charge early. Phil Mickelson staggered home down the stretch. At the end of a hot and gusty day at the Byron Nelson Classic, everyone was in the same situation - trying to catch Shigeki Maruyama.

Maruyama holed a 7-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole for a 2-under 68 that gave him a three-stroke lead over Cameron Beckman and a good chance to give Asian golfers their second PGA Tour victory in as many weeks.

Last week in New Orleans, K.J. Choi became the first PGA Tour winner from South Korea.

Maruyama recovered from two bogeys in the middle of his round by making a great par save from the thick rough on No. 15, and his birdie on the 18th put him at 12-under 198.

It was the first time Maruyama has held the 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour. He won the Greater Milwaukee Open last year - the first Japanese player to win on the mainland - by beating Charles Howell III in a playoff.

Asked how it will be different playing with a lead, Maruyama wrapped his hands around his throat and - as always - laughed.

"Big pressure tomorrow," he said.

Beckman earned a spot in the final group with a 66, the best score among late starters when the gusts approached 30 mph.

He sees Sunday as a chance to redeem himself. Three weeks ago, Beckman was in the final group with Justin Leonard at Hilton Head and shot 42 on the back nine.

"I was really trying to get in this position this week," he said. "This is where I want to be. My first two years on tour, I was scared of that."

Maruyama said he doesn't expect it to be easy, and an old-fashioned Texas shootout remains a possibility. Fifteen players, including Tiger Woods, were within seven strokes of the lead.

If that sounds like too much, consider what Els did Saturday.

The Big Easy started the third round nine strokes out of the lead, in a tie for 60th. A bogey-free 64 shot him into a tie for third at 203, along with past Nelson champion Loren Roberts, Lee Janzen, Ben Crane and Jim Carter.

"It's definitely a major move," said Els, who finished his round about 20 minutes before Maruyama teed off. "I'm in with a chance now. I don't know what the leaders are going to do, but it's not going to be easy."

Maruyama managed to increase his lead, but other players had their problems.

Mickelson was at 9 under and just one stroke out of the lead at one point until a poor drive on No. 15 led to a double bogey. He pushed his tee shot so far to the left that he hit a provisional, thinking it was out-of-bounds.

Instead, the ball was on a bed of leaves, close to the chain-link fence.

"Am I allowed to stand on the fence?" said Mickelson, taking his creative shotmaking to a new level. The answer was no, but Lefty still managed to punch out to the rough, came up short of the green and couldn't get up-and-down.

He eliminated an easy birdie opportunity on the par-5 16th by driving into the right rough, then took bogey on No. 17 from the bunker.

Mickelson finished with a 71 and was at 204 with Nick Price, Duffy Waldorf, Frank Lickliter and Paul Stankowski, his playing partner, who had a 72.

On Friday, Stankowski suggested that Mickelson's aggressive style of play was not the best approach, that more players should aim to be like Tiger.

Woods plodded along with pars, but birdies on two of his last three holes gave him a 69 and left him at 205, needing another low round on Sunday to have a chance.

"That's not what I had in mind," he said.

Still, he clearly is capable. Woods has shot 63 in the final round of the tournament the past two years, both times coming up short. His final-round average on the TPC at Las Colinas is 66.

Woods' late surged featured a brilliant shot on the 192-yard 17th, a stinger 5-iron that pierced through the wind and landed inches from the hole, stopping 3 feet away.

After his round, Woods looked back to the scoreboard behind the 18th green to see that Maruyama, who had been at 12 under through eight holes, had dropped a stroke.

"He's going to have to come back to us a little bit," Woods said.

He and everyone else nearly got their wish.

The Japanese star known as the "Smilin' Assassin" because of his playful charm, dropped shots on the 10th and 12th holes, but recovered in time to salvage his round and increase his lead.

Divots: Phil Mickelson was walking to the fifth tee when fans from a balcony in a nearby mansion started chanting his name. Mickelson looked over and threw his golf ball toward them some 100 feet away. ... Ernie Els, who experimented with lighter shafts in his irons last week, switched drivers on Saturday in his round of 64. Els said he is waiting on a new design from Taylor Made expected to come out next month. ... David Duval, who was paired with Woods, had a 72 and was at 208.