Sunday, February 23, 2003

Charles charges to 3-stroke lead in Nissan

All bets are off as Woods is 11 back of leader Howell

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - Charles Howell III wasted no time turning the Nissan Open into a one-man show Saturday, making birdies on the first two holes to open a big lead and then keeping his distance with a 3-under 68.

One stroke ahead of Nick Price to start the third round, Howell was four shots ahead after two holes and didn't do anything to suggest he was going to back up.

Leading by as much as five at one point, Howell settled for a three-stroke advantage over Price going into the final round, his first time as the 54-hole leader.

"I've never been in this position," Howell said. "This is another thing that's new that I'll have to learn how to deal with."

Howell was at 11-under 202, and the list of contenders was short.

It didn't include Tiger Woods, who hit his opening tee shot into the parking lot, hit another shot left-handed and finished with a 2-over 73. Woods was 11 behind, his largest third-round deficit since the Memorial last year (12 shots).

It also was only the second PGA Tour event since 1999 that Woods had two rounds over par. He opened with a 72. The good news?

He had a bet with caddie Steve Williams that if he didn't make birdie on the 18th, Woods would carry his own bag today. His approach stopped 4 feet in front of the flag, and Woods dropped his club and laughed.

When the putt dropped, he let out a sigh.

"I was relieved," Woods said.

Howell, one of the most outgoing players on the PGA Tour was all business on another picturesque day at Riviera Country Club. Stoic throughout most of the round, he had a two-putt birdie from just off the green on No. 1, and holed from 10 feet for birdie on No. 2.

When Price took bogey on No. 2, he was four shots behind.

CHAMPIONS TOUR: Lightning and gusts of 35-40 mph halted play at the Verizon Classic, with Bruce Fleisher at 6-under par and Hale Irwin at 5 under. Fleisher and Irwin completed 15 holes in the second round as an approaching storm hit the TPC of Tampa Bay.

"It was just hard out there," Fleisher said. "It was a continuous guessing game trying to pull the right club."

Sixteen players were still on the course when play stopped. Wayne Levi, celebrating his 51st birthday, was the clubhouse leader at par after a second-round 1-under 70.

ANZ LADIES MASTERS: Karrie Webb parred the only two holes she played to take a one-stroke lead in the rain-shortened event at Gold Coast, Australia. Webb, the Australian seeking her fifth victory in the tournament in six years, finished off a 6-under 66 with a 25-foot putt, giving her a 10-under 134 total on Royal Pines' East Course.

After completing the suspended second round in drizzle, play was called off for the rest of the day and the tournament was reduced to 54 holes. The forecast for today is for better weather.

MALAYSIAN OPEN: India's Arjun Atwal built a four-stroke lead in third round at Kuala Lumpur before a tropical strom interrupted play for the second straight day.

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