| A frustrated Tiger Woods after hitting a wild shot from the rough on the second hole during Round III of the PGA Championship at the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester on Saturday. (AP)
Rochester: Shaun Micheel fell back into a tie for the US PGA Championship third-round lead as Tiger Woods’ hopes of clinching at least one major for the fifth consecutive year all but disappeared on Saturday.
American Micheel, two ahead of the field overnight, held his nerve for most of the day with pin-point approach play before bogeying his last three holes for a one-under-par 69. That left him in a share of the lead at four-under 206 with compatriot Chad Campbell, who holed a 35-foot birdie putt at the last for a best-of-the-week 65.
“It was not a good way to finish but 69 is an ok score and I probably would have taken that before I teed off,” Micheel, 34, said. “I felt sick this morning and couldn’t eat before I teed off. But I made a lot of nice putts again and I’ve been hitting the driver well all week.”
US Masters champion Mike Weir, chasing his second major of 2003, was a further three strokes back in third after returning a level-par 70. South African Tim Clark was alone in fourth on 210 after a two-under 68.
However, world No.1 Woods battled for accuracy on his way to a three-over-par 73, finishing 13 strokes off the pace on nine-over 219.
Neither Micheel nor Campbell has won on the PGA Tour and, if either manages to triumph on Sunday, the US PGA Championship will fall to a first-time winner for the 13th time in the last 16 years.
It would also complete a clean sweep of first-time winners at this year’s majors, following the breakthrough victories achieved by Weir, Jim Furyk (US Open) and the unlikely Ben Curtis (last month’s British Open).
The four majors have not been won by first-timers in a single season since 1969, when George Archer clinched the Masters, Orville Moody the US Open, Briton Tony Jacklin the British Open and Raymond Floyd the US PGA Championship.
Asked if he had thought about becoming the fourth first-time winner of the year, Campbell replied: “I’ve tried to keep it out of my mind, but it’s kind of inevitable that it will happen.
Micheel, playing in only his third major, might have been expected to slide down the leaderboard after he ran up a bogey five at the 460-yard first.
But, with conditions a little more receptive at a damp and overcast Oak Hill Country Club, he bounced back with three consecutive birdies from the seventh, holing putts from 12, eight and 25 feet.
Superb iron-play set up further birdies at the 372-yard 12th and the 181-yard 15th and, despite dropped shots on 16, 17 and at the last, he was still at the top of the leaderboard at the end of the day.
World No. 2 Ernie Els fired a level-par 70 to finish among a group of four players on 211, while twice major winner Vijai Singh was a further shot back, also after a 70.
For twice champion Woods, however, the third round was one of continuing frustration after he started out nine strokes off the overnight lead.
Although he switched back this week to his trusty 1997 Titleist driver in a bid for more control, he hit only four of 14 fairways on Saturday. He also reached just six greens in regulation.
“I played my tail off to shoot three-over today, I really did,” said a disgruntled Woods, after only partially offsetting five bogeys with two late birdies.
“I just haven’t made enough birdies. I’m just a little off and, on a golf course that’s this penal, you can’t be a little off and expect to be ok. I’m really putting well but I just haven’t had enough looks at birdies. When I have had looks at birdies, I’ve made them.”
For the first time since 1998, Woods will complete a season without a major victory, and on Sunday he is in danger of producing his worst finish at a major since turning professional in 1996.
Although he has made every cut in the 27 majors he has played as a pro, his worst finish has twice been a tie for 29th, in the US PGA Championship at Winged Foot in 1997 and again at Atlanta Athletic Club in 2001.