Stricker, Goosen, O’Hair nudge ahead in Boston

September 7, 2009

NORTON, Mass.(AP) Steve Stricker looked at the 18th green, 237 yards away, and saw that an eagle was within reach.

Caddie Jimmy Johnson wasn’t so sure.

“I could tell deep down he wanted me just to pitch it out, lay it up and try to wedge it on,” Stricker said. “I said, ‘Forget it. Let’s go ahead and do this.”’

Stricker pulled out his hybrid – a club that’s usually good for 230 yards, max – and cleared the creek in front of the green, bouncing the ball off the rough to the left and kicking right, straight at the pin. From there, it was five feet for an eagle that gave him a 65 Sunday and a share of the lead heading into Monday’s final round at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Retief Goosen had a chance to take the lead outright until he failed to get up-and-down from a bunker on the 18th and finished with a 68 to join Stricker at 13 under. Sean O’Hair birdied two of the last three holes for a 70 to make it three atop the leaderboard.

Three players were tied at one stroke back, and a total of 12 were within three strokes of the lead.

Tiger Woods was not among them.

The PGA Tour playoff leader and 2006 Deutsche Bank winner shot a 1-over 72 and sits tied for 30th at 4 under. With a victory at the TPC of Boston, Stricker would take over the FedEx Cup lead as long as Woods does not finish second or third.

“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. “It’s good for the tournament when he’s there. It’s good for TV when he’s up there. But as a player, it’s nice that if you’re up around the lead that he’s not.”

Woods has not placed lower than 35th when he finishes a 72-hole tournament in more than two years, but a combination of the deceptive wind and a balky putter left him nine strokes back. He has never come back from such a deficit to win a professional tournament.

Woods hit his opening drive into the woods for a one-shot penalty and didn’t make a birdie until the 15th hole.

Padraig Harrington, a crowd favorite in the heavily Irish region, sank a long birdie putt on No. 18 for a 67 and was among those one shot behind, along with Scott Verplank (68) and Kevin Na (66).

Jim Furyk, who had a share of the 36-hole lead with O’Hair, slumped to a 73 and was at 10 under.

“You know someone is going to shoot a good score tomorrow,” said Kevin Sutherland, who was in the group at two shots behind after a 69. “You just need to be the guy who does it.”

Stricker entered the second week in the four-event PGA playoff 1,276 points behind Woods. He was one of four golfers with a chance to catch Woods in the points race this weekend, and a victory to follow up his second place at The Barclays would put him in the running for the $10 million bonus.

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

Stricker had a chance to take over the top spot in the FedEx Cup last week at Liberty National until he missed a 10-foot par putt on the final hole that would have forced a playoff with Slocum. Stricker opened with a 63 in Boston before getting tired with his putting stroke late in the day and falling five shots behind.

“I needed a day like this today to get back into it,” Stricker said.

And he got it, thanks to a favorable bounce on No. 18.

“That’s why you go for it,” he said. “Sometimes you get the good break.”