Stricker is still on fire

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LA QUINTA, Calif. --- Steve Stricker shot 10-under-par 62 Saturday to overtake Pat Perez and rewrite a couple of PGA Tour records through four rounds of the birdie-fest known as the Bob Hope Classic.

Eight shots behind Perez after 36 holes, Stricker shot 61 during the third round to move into contention, and his sparkling play on the fourth day gave him a three-shot lead over Perez, the leader each of the previous three rounds.

On another of what has been a string of warm, windless days in the desert, Stricker reached 33-under 255, bettering the tour's 72-hole mark of 31-under set by Ernie Els in winning the 2003 Mercedes Classic.

Stricker's 61-62 also was a tour low for consecutive rounds. Mark Calcavecchia set the record by shooting 60-64 in the 2001 Phoenix Open, and Perez tied it with his 61-63 start in the Hope.

As a yardstick of how low the scoring has been in the always par-as-a-memory Hope, the cut came at 15-under, lowest ever for a tour event. Jesper Parnevik, the 2000 champion, shot an 11-under 61 in the fourth round and still missed the cut, with his 274 total one shot over the limit to play today.

Tommy Armour holds the record for lowest 72-hole score, winning the 2003 Texas Open on a par 70 course at 254, which was 26-under. Joe Durant set the tour mark for 90 holes when he won the 2001 Hope at 36-under, a 324 total.

"Joe Durant was on my flight (from Hawaii) and I asked what his winning score was here and he said 36 under. And I'm like, 'That's unbelievable,' " Stricker recalled.

Suddenly it's not so far-fetched.

"It almost seems like you can't reach that goal," Stricker said. "But here we are. We're one day away from making, maybe breaking that record, which is incredible."

Perez played at Bermuda Dunes and had his second consecutive 67, leaving him alone in second at 258.

In one of the earlier groups to tee off, he took the lead into the clubhouse while Stricker was still reeling off birdies -- including his final four holes -- on the Nicklaus Course at PGA West.

Those two players may be dueling for the title over the final 18 holes, because the closest pursuers were Evans resident Vaughn Taylor (68), Bubba Watson (63) and Robert Garrigus (66), all seven shots off the lead at 262.

Taylor had five birdies, giving him 27 through 72 holes against three bogeys. He's 26-under for the week.

Former Louisville, Ga., resident Brian Gay came back from his third-round 72 with 63 on Saturday.

Gay had 10 birdies and one bogey and birdied six of seven holes during a front-nine stretch. Gay is tied for 45th place, 15 shots off the lead.

The 41-year-old Stricker, a four-time winner on the tour and at No. 16 the highest player in the world ranking in the Hope, was extremely accurate off the tee and onto the green and finished his round with 10 birdies and no bogeys.

He obviously also had a fine touch on the greens, needing only 23 putts; he's needed only 102 putts to play the first 72 holes.

Perez, looking for his first PGA Tour win, made five birdies and no bogeys and has bogeyed only two holes the entire tournament.

After rotating among the four courses and playing 72 holes as a pro-am, the low-scoring 70 pros and ties will finish with 18 holes on the Palmer Course at PGA West.

Perez said he feels good about his game heading into the final round.

"Whatever happens, at least I'll be ready and comfortable going into it," he said. "I love that (Palmer) course. That back nine is one of my favorites of all time."


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