Torrey Pines trifecta: Garcia in the lead, with Tiger and Phil right behind


Published: Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
SAN DIEGO - Sergio Garcia stood over a 5-foot birdie putt, the kind that has given him fits the last couple of years, and watched it roll true into the center of the cup Saturday for a share of the lead with Rod Pampling in the Buick Invitational.
Garcia is convinced that his best days with the flat stick are ahead of him.
And as he walked off the 18th green at Torrey Pines and glanced at the leaderboard, there was little question how soon he was about to find out.
One shot behind was Tiger Woods, who tends to get the best of the 26-year-old Spaniard when it counts.
Another shot behind was Phil Mickelson, who recovered from a rocky back nine with a birdie on the last hole that left him only two shots behind.
"I've always enjoyed competition, playing against the best," Garcia said. "That's why I came here to the U.S. to play on this tour. It's going to be a fun day, and by no means is it going to be easy. I'm looking forward to what we can do."
Garcia and Pampling each had a 4-under 68 on the tough South Course, site of the 2008 U.S. Open, and shared the 54-hole lead at 11-under 205. They will be in the final group today with Woods, who found his swing and fearlessly fired at flags on his way to a 67 that put him at 206.
Woods, the defending champion, shot 32 on the stronger back nine to get into contention in his first start of 2006. He was joined by Nathan Green (69), a PGA Tour rookie from Australia, and they had plenty of company. Ten players were separated by three shots.
"I put myself there with a chance to win tomorrow," Woods said. "There's so many guys with a chance. You have to play your game and see what happens."
Adding to the dynamics was Mickelson, one of nine players who had at least a share of the lead at one point Saturday. Lefty made three bogeys on the back nine, but a good putt on the 18th salvaged a 69 and left him only two shots behind, along with Jesper Parnevik (73) and Brandt Jobe (75).
"I had it going," said Mickelson, who had the outright lead after a birdie on 11. "The last seven holes did me in, but I'm still within striking distance. I think it's going to be a really interesting Sunday."
Forgotten among the names of Garcia, Woods and Mickelson was the co-leader - Pampling, who won at the International two years ago and was a steady, if not quiet, presence atop the leaderboard. His 8-foot birdie on the par-5 18th not only gave him a share of the lead, it put him into the final group of what should be a circus.
"It will be fun to be out there," Pampling said. "It's nice to be amongst Tiger's group, because that's where the main crowd is, and that's what we work for. Hopefully, they'll be standing still when I hit."
Still, he'll understand if he feels like an undercard.
A Garcia-Woods rivalry has been brewing since Garcia was 19 and nearly stole the PGA Championship away in 1999 at Medinah. He beat Woods in the "Battle at Bighorn" exhibition a year later and celebrated as though he had won the Masters. Their relationship has been frosty ever since.
  • QATAR MASTERS: Sweden's Henrik Stenson shot a 1-under-71 to take a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Qatar Masters in Doha, Qatar.
    Stenson had an 11-under 205 total. England's Paul Broadhurst (67) and Sweden's Niclas Fasth (68) were tied for second, and England's Richard Finch (71) and Argentina's Ricardo Gonzalez (72) were another stroke back.
    Defending champion Ernie Els (69) was six shots behind Stenson.
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