Sunday, November 4, 2007

Rose eyes money title at Volvo Masters

SOTOGRANDE, Spain (AP) — Justin Rose struggled early before shooting an even-par 71 Saturday to lead European Order of Merit rival Padraig Harrington by four shots after the third round of the Volvo Masters.

Rose, who started the round with a four-shot lead atop the leaderboard, recovered from a bogey-double bogey start with three birdies and then sank a tough putt at the last hole to save par.

"A four-shot lead is nothing to be excited about, as I proved after two holes," said Rose, who is at 4-under 209.

Harrington had drawn even with Rose by the third hole after a birdie at the first, but needed another birdie at the 17th to shoot a 71. The Irishman is tied with Simon Dyson (69) of England at 213.

"It's in his hands tomorrow," Harrington said. "It would be silly not to think there isn't pressure on us both. We'll wait and see tomorrow night who handled it the best."

Ernie Els leads the European money title by $313,892 over Harrington, but opted to play in Singapore on the Asia Tour this week.

Harrington, who won last year's Order of Merit money title at this event, leads Rose by $948.

Rose needed three putts at the first hole after his pitch rolled backward to leave him 60 feet short of the pin.

The Englishman overshot the green with his approach at the second, and then flubbed two wedge shots before his 9-foot putt slid past for a double bogey to be tied with Harrington at 1 under.

"I was obviously shell-shocked - it wasn't the start I was looking for," Rose said. "On the third tee, I just said to myself: 'You're still joint leader of the tournament, let's take it from there."'

Despite a tricky pin position at the third hole, Harrington didn't lay up as he did in the opening two rounds and his ball bounced sharply off a rock to leave him with a tough chip over water.

The Irishman didn't make it and needed to sink a 5-footer for a bogey, but Rose had retaken the lead.

"I played three good holes and was feeling very good about my game and feeling very confident," Harrington said. "If (the shot) came off, you're expecting to make birdie."

Rose's driving was inconsistent on the front nine, but he improved on the back to roll in birdies at the ninth and 11th. Although he needed to get up and down from a bunker at the last hole to save par.

"I putted a lot better today and that was the key," Rose said. "I'm just trying to win this tournament, it's as clear as that. The goal is a simple equation, which is: if you win, you win (the Order of Merit)."

Dyson, one of only six players in the 54-man field to finish under par, will partner Rose for the final round, while Harrington plays with 2004 winner Ian Poulter (69).

Verplank, Ames wind up tied after tough finishes

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Scott Verplank was two shots behind with three holes to play Saturday, then surged into a share of the lead at the Children's Miracle Network simply by making pars.

Verplank, one of six players who had at least a share of the lead on a wild afternoon at Disney, wound up with a 71 and was tied with Stephen Ames going into a final round.

On a pristine day outside the Magic Kingdom, chaos reigned on the closing holes at a tournament that used to be known for birdies falling as often as the whistle blows at Thunder Mountain.

Ames, who had a two-shot lead at one point, bogeyed two of his last three holes with three-putts that measured 60 and 70 feet. He had to settle for a 70, but had few complaints about still being in the lead.

The man of few words was Brett Wetterich, who might have joined the leaders except for his triple bogey on the final hole when he suffered a two-stroke penalty for accidentally moving a twig inside the hazard while deciding whether to play the shot. He had a 72 and walked off the course without speaking to reporters or a PGA Tour official.

Once he cools down, Wetterich might realize he's still in the hunt.

Then again, just about everyone is.

"There's got to be 30 guys that have a chance to win," Verplank said.

Verplank and Ames were at 13-under 203, with Justin Leonard (70) and long-shot Tag Ridings (71) in the five-way tie for third. Two dozen players were separated by four shots going into the final round of the final PGA Tour event of the year.

"If you play steady tomorrow, you'll have some birdie opportunities and be at the top of the board at the end of the day," Ames said.

He played better than most, riding consecutive birdies on the 13th and 14th holes to a two-shot lead before his approach shots went to the opposite end of the green from where the flag was whipping in the wind.

That's no disgrace on the Magnolia Course, at least not anymore.

The final three holes measure 451 yards, 489 yards and 473 yards, and the soggy conditions for a week of rain made it play even longer. Leonard hit 4-iron for his second shot on all three of them, dropping one shot but still staying in the picture as he tries to win for the second time or at worst qualify for the Masters.

"It wasn't an easy day," Leonard said. "If you could shoot a couple under, you knew you weren't going to lose ground."

Wetterich lost all his ground on one hole.

His name was never far from the lead after an eagle on the par-5 10th, and he was only one shot behind when his tee shot on the 18th hole went left into the hazard. He took out an iron to see if he had a shot, but during one of his pre-shot waggles, the club moved a twig, and it's a two-stroke penalty for moving a loose impediment in the hazard.

Then came another penalty for taking the drop, and two putts from 20 feet for his triple bogey.

Verplank lost ground early.

He had gone 40 holes without a bogey at Disney until making his first one of the tournament on the par-4 fifth when he blasted a bunker shot 40 feet past the pin. He chipped weakly and missed a 6-foot par putt on the next hole to fall out of the lead.

From there, it became a revolving door of leaders with five players tied at one point.

When it finally sorted itself out, Verplank and Ames were on top and will be in the final group with Tim Petrovic, who played bogey-free on the back nine and quietly posted a 68.

Also at 204 were Mathew Goggin (69) and Jeff Overton (69). Heath Slocum shot a 69 and was alone in eighth at 205, followed by a group that included Wetterich, Rich Beem (70), Stewart Cink (70) and Robert Gamez (67).

It was a huge day for Gamez, who was is 152nd on the money list and at least wants to get inside the top 150 to secure some status for next year. Even better would be the top 125 for full status, and now he's only three shots away from the lead, knowing that a victory would sew up his job for two years.

Ridings, though, is the ultimate long shot. He was the 14th alternate when the field was set last week and got into the tournament. But at No. 210 on the money list, he needs nothing short of a victory to keep his card. Ridings was four shots behind on the back nine, seemingly sliding, but with the calamity that followed, he was right in the middle of it all.

Beem was among those tied for the lead, but made three straight bogeys for a 70. The former PGA champion is playing his fifth straight week, even though he locked up his card last week, and he's feeling the fatigue.

After a birdie on the 13th — a hole where he made eagle 2 on Friday — Beem flashed a 2-3 with his fingers, presumably his score.

"Oh, that's not my scores," he said. "That's how many holes are left (23) until I'm done."

It could take all 18 holes Sunday to figure out who wins the last event of the season.

DIVOTS: In perhaps the most baffling move of the day, Golf Channel cut off coverage of the third round when the leaders still had two holes to play. The reason? So it could switch to the Nationwide Tour event in San Diego. All viewers missed were Wetterich's bizarre penalty strokes that led to triple bogey and Ames' bogey on the 18th that reshaped the leaderboard. ... J.B. Holmes, who was 126th on the money list, shot a 70 and was among those three off the lead. Holmes already was assured his card for next year from his 2006 victory in Phoenix, but finishing in the top 125 gets him into The Players Championship.

Johnson takes 1-stroke lead in Nationwide finale

LAKESIDE, Calif. (AP) — Richard Johnson birdied the final three holes for a 4-under 67 and a one-stroke lead over Tom Scherrer on Saturday after the third round of the season-ending Nationwide Tour Championship.

Johnson, at No. 6 on the money list already assured a 2008 PGA Tour card, had a 16-under 197 total on the Barona Creek Golf Club course.

"I'm surprised to be where I am," Johnson said.

He had a quadruple-bogey 7 on No. 11 and bogeyed No. 12.

"I played mostly solid except for two holes," said Johnson, the Mark Christopher Charity Classic winner last month in Rancho Cucamonga.

The top 25 on the money list after the tournament will earn PGA Tour cards, with Scherrer (67) fighting to move up from No. 27.

Kelly Grunewald (67), Jim McGovern (68) and first- and second-round leader Michael Letzig (73) were two strokes back at 14 under. Letzig began the week 26th on the money list, McGovern was 45th and Grunewald 55th.

Letzig three-putted from 3 feet on No. 18 for a triple bogey.

"I tried to tap it in three times," Letzig said. "I'm not really sure what happened. The good thing is I'm not out of it."

Grunewald needs a victory to advance to the PGA Tour.

"It was a bonus for me to be here this week," Grunewald said. "Last week, I was looking at going to first or second stage of Q-school. I'm playing with a lot of confidence and that's what you have to do out here."

Johnson has been in the final group five times this season.

"I think someone is going to go low," Johnson said. "I hope it's me."

Ueda wins first US Tour title

OVERNIGHT co-leader Momoko Ueda shot a brilliant 66, including an albatross, to claim her first US LPGA Tour title by two strokes at the Mizuno Classic.

The 21-year-old Japanese, ranked top on the Japan Tour this season, downed the par-five seventh in two and sank another four birdies against one bogey to finish the three rounds at 13-under-par 203.

Ueda received the winner's cheque of $227,000 ahead of Sweden's Maria Hjorth and Reilley Rankin of the United States.

"I'm determined to come back here next year as a stronger Momoko Ueda. But we have some more tournaments this season. I'm going to concentrate on finishing top in the rankings," she said.

Ueda, who claimed her fifth Japan Tour win and fourth this season, did not say whether she would take up her option of playing on the US Tour next season.

"I will think about it later," she said.

Hjorth started the day one stroke behind Ueda and eagled the first hole, drawing her level with the Japanese who birdied.

But Ueda's albatross put her in front and she increased her lead with a birdie on the 16th.

Japan's Shinobu Moromizato finished fourth on 208, followed by overnight co-leader Laura Davies who was level par for the day to be tied with South Korea's Kim Mi-Hyun and Japan's Chie Arimura and Mie Nakata on 209.