Woods takes narrow one-stroke lead in to final round of Dubai Desert Classic

Saturday, March 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) _ Tiger Woods' first victory of the season isn't in the bag just yet.

Despite 8-under 64s in the first two rounds of the Dubai Desert Classic, Woods ``squirreled'' his way Saturday to a 68 for a one-stroke lead over his playing partner for the third straight day Thomas Bjorn, who shot 67.

Woods had been nearly flawless on this perfectly manicured Arabian desert course. Saturday he looked human, particularly on the 10th with a hacker's three-putt from 3-feet (1 meter).

``The first putt I pulled. The second I shoved, and the third putt I thought I hit pretty good. It went right in the middle.''

``Granted, it was only 6 inches (15 cm),'' said Woods, who drew a laugh and attention to what let him down. Poor putting cost him three bogeys in five hole, his only ones in three rounds.

Only birdies on 15, 17 and 18 kept him in the lead on a warm, summer-like day in this commercial and tourist center on the Persian Gulf.

A tournament that looked like a two-man show with Woods and Bjorn dominating the first two rounds is a real chase going into Sunday with the world No. 1 trying to end a so-called winless ``slump.''

Ireland's Padraig Harrington was three back at 17-under 199 after a 64. Indian Jeev Milkha Singh shot 67 for a 16-under 200. Four others were five strokes behind: Ian Woosnam of Wales (64), Argentine Angel Cabrera (65), Ireland's Paul McGinley (65) and England's Brian Davis (65).

Mathias Gronberg (66) and Gary Emerson (65) were six back with Tony Johnstone's 63 _ the best round of the tournament _ putting him seven back.

Woods is 0-for-5 this season in U.S. Tour events and hasn't won in his last eight tournaments in the United States, although he has three victories in that span outside the continental U.S. _ Hawaii, Thailand and Argentina.

``It wasn't one of my easier rounds of golf,'' said Woods, who trailed Bjorn by one stroke after 12 holes when he picked up this third bogey, missing a par putt from 8 feet (2.5 meters).

``That's just goes to show the guy is human,'' Bjorn said. ``But he also showed his world class coming down the last four holes where he birdied three to get the lead.''

``He didn't show his best golf today, but he showed class.''

Woods birdied the par-3 15th with a 12-footer (4 meters), then crackled the desert air by driving the 351-yard 17th and narrowly missing a 15-footer (5 meters) for eagle.

``I just threw it up in the air and let the wind just take it from me,'' Woods said. ``It rode the jetstream and got there. I hit a good putt but just didn't hit it hard enough.''

He got his final birdie on the 547-yard 18th _ on in two and two putts.

``I was pretty proud the way I came back,'' Wood said. ``I made a couple of birdies coming home. That's what you have to be able to do sometimes. The game of golf is very fickle. You have to keep hanging in there and grinding it out.''

``He (Woods) will feel it (68) is the worst he could have done,'' Harrington said. ``That shows the incredible standard he is at.''

Bjorn, who trailed by two after Friday, called his driving ``some of the best in a round I have ever had.''

``I think 67 is a good score, but from where I was in the fairways, it's not the best I could have done.''

Bjorn has probably played with Woods more than any European _ and he's learned to adjust to the frenzy that goes with it. He said the worst experience he ever had playing with the American came in last year's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Woods shot 71 into stiff winds and hard greens, and Bjorn had an 82.

``That was a tough day,'' Bjorn said. ``I didn't play very well and we know how well he played. I went home thinking: `You've got to learn to do it. You've got to learn to play with the guy if you're going to beat him''

Bjorn has his chance Sunday.