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Tiger Woods takes Buick Open lead

TIGER Woods' score was better than his play as he shot an eventful 7-under-65 yesterday to claim the third-round lead at the Buick Open.

Woods drove onto adjacent fairways twice on the back nine, hit a cup of beer in a spectator's hand, got rattled by a bug and was relegated to shaping some shots around trees and under branches, yet still moved to a 17-under 199 total.

That gave him a one-stroke lead when Michael Letzig (68) double bogeyed the last hole.

"The whole idea of the game is put the ball in the hole, and I did that," Woods said. "But as far as controlling my ball, I didn't do that."

Woods was eight shots off the lead after the opening day, when he putted poorly but roared back into contention with a 63 in the second round and goes into today as leader and clear favorite to win.

He moved into a tie for the lead with Letzig at 17 under with a 33-foot birdie putt at No. 17.

Woods pumped his fist, shouted, and the gallery roared so loud he couldn't communicate with caddie Steve Williams.

"It was pretty exciting," said Woods, making his ninth Buick Open appearance. "The people here have been absolutely incredible, so supportive of this event over the years. That's one of the reasons why we love coming here."

American Letzig hit a poor shot out of a greenside bunker at No. 18, barely clearing it and leaving him with a tricky lie. He fell to 16 under while Woods was on the practice range.

"I don't care," Letzig said when asked if it would be tough to forget what happened on the last hole. "I'm one shot out of the lead."

Woods has a 35-1 record on the PGA Tour when he has the outright lead after 54 holes. The lone loss in this situation came when in his third tournament as a pro at the 1996 Quad City Classic.

Woods and Letzig will be in the final group today. They also played together in the final round - though not as final pair - at the Memorial in June, when Woods rallied from a four-shot deficit to win. Letzing shot 75 that day and wound up tied for 14th.

"I won't be so scared, I'll know what to expect," Letzig insisted. "I'm playing good, that's the bottom line."

If Woods wins today, it would be his third Buick Open title and 69th on the PGA Tour.

Letzig is hoping to win for the first time in his 50th PGA Tour event. He's coming off his first top-10 finish this year. His best showing in two seasons was a tie for second at the Ginn sur Mer Classic.

Woods is on a win-one, lose-one pattern in recent tournaments.

He won the Memorial, tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, won the AT&T National, then missed the cut at the British Open two weeks ago. His first victory this season was the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his third tournament following an eight-month absence recovering from reconstructive surgery on his left knee.

He three-putted from 55 feet on the par-5 first. At No. 5, he stepped out of his stance and kicked a bug that he later acknowledged led to him losing his concentration and sailing his tee shot to the right 237 yards away from the pin.

"I didn't refocus on the shot," Woods said. "I just got away with it."

Woods cut a shot around one tree, over a towering one and reached the green to set up a two-putt from 53 feet for a birdie.

At No. 7, he pulled out his driver that stayed in his bag for much of the day and the tee shot hit a cup of beer in a fan's hand and led to some friendly banter. His second shot went under some tree branches and landed about 300 yards away. A fantastic save out of sand set him up for another birdie.

While Woods was pleased with his score, he wasn't proud of the way he had to scramble on one of the easier courses on the PGA Tour.

"You're not supposed to be doing that," he said. "This golf course is pretty short. You have to take advantage and I did, but unfortunately, I didn't do it the correct way."


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