LEMONT, Ill. (AP) — Mark Wilson will be in the final pairing Saturday at the BMW Championship with Tiger Woods, a familiar foe from 17 years ago when they met in the championship match of the U.S. Junior Amateur.
Cog Hill is plenty familiar to both of them – Woods seems to win here all the time, Wilson practices here all the time.
It’s that tee time, shortly after lunch, that might seem out of place to Wilson.
Cog Hill, the public course in the Chicago suburbs run by Frank Jemsek, opened its arms to Wilson when he moved to town from his native Wisconsin about five years ago. Even now, as a two-time PGA Tour winner, he spends more time at Cog Hill than any other course in the Chicago area. That doesn’t mean he gets the course to himself.
“It’s crowded, yeah,” Wilson said Friday after his birdie on the final hole for a 5-under 66, giving him a share of the 36-hole lead with Woods, a four-time winner of this tournament.
“I think Cog Hill is doing pretty good,” he said. “It seems like they’re sending people off every eight minutes. I always used to play at 6 a.m. or about 4 in the afternoon. Those are the two times that you’ll see me on the golf course. I’ll try to get in front of the first group, play a quick 18. Takes only two-and-a-half hours.”
So much is different about Saturday.
The prize money is $7.5 million – put that in context with the $140 greens fee that is waived for Wilson. Still at stake is a chance to get to the Tour Championship in two weeks to compete for the $10 million bonus in the FedEx Cup.
And instead of public golfers he keeps running into, he’ll shake hands with the No. 1 player in the world. Wilson has his share of fans, obviously, although he could count them in the gallery Friday.
“The multitudes are still chasing Tiger,” he said.
Those fans were treated to quite a show, too. After opening with a bogey, twice having to make superb bunker shots to avoid dropping more shots and not having a good look at birdie until the seventh hole, Woods patiently waited for his opening and cashed with three straight birdies at the turn. He wound up with a 4-under 67.
Woods and Wilson were at 7-under 135, with a large cast of challengers behind them.
– Padraig Harrington, a familiar name atop the leaderboard over the last two months, was poised to join them until his tee shot on the 18th hole sailed wide ride and into a tree, sending the Irishman back to the tee. He did well to escape with bogey after making a 20-foot putt that gave him a 68. Harrington was at 6-under 136 with Rory Sabbatini (70), Bo Van Pelt (69) and Marc Leishman (69).
– Sean O’Hair, who had a share of the 54-hole lead a week ago in Boston, had a 68 and was in the group three shots behind along with Anthony Kim, winless this year and needing a good tournament to be among the top 30 to advance to the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
– Sergio Garcia, who narrowly made it to Chicago, had a 68 and was among those four shots behind.
This is the first time Woods has been atop the leaderboard since the PGA Championship, when he lost a four-shot lead after 36 holes and a two-shot lead on the final day as Y.E. Yang won at Hazeltine.
He was never in serious contention at The Barclays until the final hour, and never in the hunt at all at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
“Been a long time, huh?” he said sarcastically. “It obviously is nice. I’m playing well, and I’ve gotten up-and-down a few times the last couple days, something I hadn’t done.”
Something else Woods doesn’t do all that often is tee off at 6 a.m. on a public golf course to beat the crowd. His practice domain is the gated community of Isleworth near Orlando, Fla., home to a half-dozen or so tour players and other star athletes.
“The members all leave all the pros alone and whatever celebs that come in there and play,” Woods said. “It’s just the rule there. Just leave them alone. Through all the years, you get to know a lot of the guys and their wives, and you have a few drinks afterward. It’s a pretty laid-back club, actually. Some good members.”
The highlight of Wilson’s round was being one of only three players in the 68-man field to make birdie on the par-3 second hole, where the green was so firm that some balls even landing in the front would roll off the green and into a bunker.
“It must have carried just over in the rough and got a nice hop up there about 6 feet, which I think is probably the only way you can keep it short on that hole,” Wilson said. “So that was a nice break.”
Woods and Harrington are among the top six players assured a trip to East Lake in two weeks for the FedEx Cup finale at the Tour Championship and a chance to win the $10 million bonus.
Not so for Wilson, who is at No. 41 in the standings. Only the top 30 advance after this week, and Wilson doesn’t even know how high he needs to finish, only that a victory would take care of everything.
“Something tells me a win gets me way up there, and I’d rather do that,” Wilson said. “And I’ll be going for that. If I fall a little short, then the consolation prize would be Atlanta. And that would be good.”