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Stricker leads Choi by 1 at Barclays

Only four players were within six shots of Choi going into a steamy afternoon at Westchester. But the South Korean plodded along with pars as Mahan and others were attacking soft greens.

That turned a potential runaway into a tournament with compelling possibilities. Ten players were separated by five shots going into the final round, a group that Ernie Els joined with an eagle on the last hole for a 68 that left him five back.

Former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy had a 69 and was in the group at 203 that included Woody Austin (66) and Rory Sabbatini, who was among four players who had a share of the lead Saturday until he started missing fairways and making bogeys.

Phil Mickelson looked like he might join the chase with four birdies at the turn that pulled him within three shots of the lead. But that was as close as he got, and he had to settle for a 69 that left him seven shots back.

The most impressive day belonged to Mahan, who also shot 62 to tie the Canadian Open record last month. That was in the first round, and Mahan was up-and-down the rest of the week and tied for fifth.

"I feel like it's going to be a little different tomorrow because I have a chance to win the tournament," Mahan said.

So does Stricker — again.

He was tied for the lead at the Wachovia Championship until a double bogey on the 16th hole, allowing Tiger Woods to breathe easier. He was among the leaders at the AT&T National and wound up second behind Choi.

But the most memorable moments were at the majors. Stricker was tied for the lead at Oakmont as he made the turn in the final round, only to double bogey two straight holes and shoot 40 on the back nine. And he played in the final group at Carnoustie, one shot behind early in the last round, before one of golf's best putters couldn't make anything inside 6 feet.

"You still learn a lot," Stricker said. "You learn how to handle rejection a little bit when you don't win. It's been a long time."

Beem hasn't won since the '02 PGA Championship, and that five-year exemption runs out this year. He looked like he might fold when he was four shots behind after eight holes, but his eagle putt on the ninth changed everything. His only regret was not getting two wedge shots closer than 30 feet on the final holes.

"But I can't complain about anything," Beem said. "I played some pretty good golf today."

That made what Mahan did simply spectacular.

He turned around his fortunes at Westchester, much like he turned around his season. Mahan has not finished out of the top 25 all summer, and he thrust himself into contention at The Barclays with nine birdies, none longer than 12 feet.

"I just tried to keep playing good and give myself a ton of opportunities, and made some," Mahan said.

A victory by any of top seven players on the leaderboard would be enough for them to take over the No. 1 position in the playoffs.

For now, Stricker's focus is on a trophy.

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