Sunday, September 06, 2009

NORTON, Mass. (AP) — Steve Stricker looked at the leaderboard and breathed a sigh: He's up on top, and Tiger Woods was nowhere to be seen.

``It's always nice if you're up around the lead that he's not there, because he's such a dangerous player and a great player as we all know,'' Stricker said after shooting a 6-under par 65 in the Deutsche Bank Championship on Sunday to tie for the third-round lead at 13 under with Retief Goosen and Sean O'Hair.

``It's good for the tournament when he's there. It's good for TV when he's up there. But as a player,'' Stricker said, ``it's nice that if you're up around the lead that he's not.''

Woods managed to save a birdie from the fairway bunker on No. 18 on Sunday, finishing 1 over for the day and 4 under - nine strokes back - through the third round. Woods has never come back from a deficit of more than eight strokes to win a tournament, and he has never erased more than a five-stroke deficit on the PGA Tour.

Woods went to sign autographs after his round without speaking to reporters and then headed for the locker room, where he had a physical therapist stretch out his back. The FedEx Cup points leader and 2006 Deutsche Bank winner then went to the putting green for the next half-hour.

Woods bogeyed the first hole when he drove into a hazard and had to take a penalty drop, then parred his way through the front nine. He fell to 2 over when he three-putted on No. 11, missing from inside of six feet with a chance to save par. He didn't register his first birdie of the day until the 15th hole.

His only other birdie was on the par-5 18th, even though he put his tee shot into a bunker and had to knock his second into the fairway, leaving himself about 150 yards to the green. But he put his third shot within three feet of the pin and tapped in to salvage an otherwise forgettable round.

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POINTS RACE: Things weren't working out for Tiger Woods on the playoff leaderboard, either.

Only four players could catch Woods in the standings this week with a victory in the Deutsche Bank Championship and the 2,500 FedEx Cup points that go with it.

One of them - Steve Stricker - is among the tournament leaders.

Stricker entered the second week in the four-event PGA playoff in second place, 1,276 points behind Woods. He's tied for the lead at TPC of Boston with Retief Goosen and Sean O'Hair at 13 under.

Heath Slocum, who's third and trailing Woods by 1,526 points, did not make the cut in Boston. Zach Johnson, who is fourth and 2,152 points behind Woods, is six strokes back in the tournament. Kenny Perry, who trails Woods by 2,306 points, is tied for 43rd through three rounds, a stroke behind Woods at 3 under.

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GO BADGERS: Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly, both residents of Madison, Wis., wound up paired together for the third round and found the matchup productive.

Kelly shot 67 on Sunday to drop to 11-under par for the tournament. Stricker's 65 on Sunday put him at 13 under for the weekend and tied for the lead leader heading into the final round.

``I've got to chase down a guy named Stricker,'' Kelly said. ``I wish for him that he plays as well as he could possibly play, and I just want to play a little better.''

Kelly and Stricker started playing against each other in amateur tournaments in Wisconsin more than 20 years ago, and they developed a friendship that overcame their different personalities. Kelly is outgoing and emotional; Stricker is more reserved.

``You've just got to take Jerry with a grain of salt and let him go do the things he's going to do, and he knows that,'' Stricker said. I guess he just wears his emotions more on his sleeve than I would.''

When they were paired together for the Shark Shootout, Stricker gave Kelly some putting tips that have helped him gain confidence on the greens. Kelly said it helps to see Stricker's work close-up.

``Any time I get to watch Steve's putting stroke for a round, it makes me a better player,'' Kelly said. ``Think they'll let us play together again tomorrow?''

Sorry, Jerry, you've got to earn that.

Stricker will tee off in the last group with Retief Goosen, who's also 13 under. Sean O'Hair, also at 13 under, will play in the penultimate group with Kevin Na, who's one stroke back.

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Divots: Mike Weir was two shots out of the lead until missing a five-foot par putt on No. 16 and hitting a wedge into the creek on the 18th to make double bogey. In the final three holes, the 2003 Masters champion went from a tie for seventh to a tie for 17th. ... Seven players shot all three rounds in the 60s. ... Of the top eight players on the leaderboard, Kevin Na is the only one without a PGA Tour victory.

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