David Toms turned the script on Saturday at the Mitsubishi Electric Classic with a four-stroke swing on the 15th hole and closed with pars for a 1-under 71 that gave him a two-stroke lead over Ken Duke heading into the final round on the PGA Tour Champions.
Toms was in danger of going two strokes down when his long birdie putt on the 14th went over the hole and nearly went off the green. He made the 12-footer for par, then grabbed the big mess Duke made from the next hole.
Duke’s 20-foot putt over the hole had too much pace and sank – and sank some more – until he picked up steam and rolled about 35 yards down the fairway. His corner was too weak and rolled into a bunker, and he made a triple bogey.
Toms rolled in his birdie putt and went from a behind to a three-shot lead.
Duke birdied the par-5 closing hole at TPC Sugarloaf to save a 73 and keep it in the game. So many more are now in the mix.
Toms was at 8 under 136.
Ernie Els finished with three birdies over his last five holes of the front nine for a 68. He was part of the group four shots behind at 4-under 140 that included Jay Haas (69), Fred Couples (70 ) and Monday qualifier Mark Walker, who birdied the last hole for a 72.
Steve Flesch (73) was also in the group at 140. He played in the final group with Toms and Duke and was hiding until he hit a big corner on 17 that didn’t reach the bunker, threw and missed an 8-foot per putt. He had to settle for par on the last hole.
Toms will be aiming for his third PGA Tour Champions victory. Among his 13 PGA Tour wins was the 2001 PGA Championship at suburban Atlanta Athletic Club.
The conditions were much more severe than the opening round, which featured a rain delay. The wind was fierce and the temperatures dropped, putting a premium in a tie.
That didn’t stop two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen, who was 7 under on his 15-hole round until the front nine closed with two straight bogeys. His 67 matched the lowest round of the day, and he was 3-under 141, five strokes behind.
Steve Stricker was also five back, in his second tournament since returning from a six-month layoff due to an illness that hospitalized him late last year; and Miguel Angel Jiménez.
Duke did well to keep bogeys off his card. His long birdie putt on the 14th hit the pin and went over the lip. And then everything went wrong on the 15th.
Even so, he was only two behind and will be in the final group as he chases his first PGA Tour title.
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