Hold off on that coronation for Tiger Woods.
Just when it seemed Woods was about to run away with the PGA Championship, the way he did in the Masters at Augusta National two years ago, along came the most unlikely contender Saturday at Medinah Country Club.
Mike Weir doesn't have the credentials or the championships of Woods. The 29-year-old Canadian countered with grit and great shots, including a chip-in for eagle that thrust him into a share of the lead going into the final round in the final major of the 20th century.
"I'm definitely the underdog," Weir said. "Tiger's the best player in the world. I lost my tour card last year."
If no one else believes Weir can get in the way of Woods' march to his second major championship, think back six weeks to the same city. Woods won the Western Open in Chicago, but not without a serious scare from Weir.
"He's a tough competitor," Woods said after a 4-under 68 marked by a 50-foot putt, a bunker shot he nearly holed for eagle and beautifully shaped shots around the trees. "I expect nothing but a tough fight from him tomorrow."
Weir joined him at 11-under 205 with a 15-foot birdie putt on the dangerous par-3 17th over Lake Kadijah and a gutsy par save on the 18th.
Experience yielded to the youth movement in the third round, as 45-year-old Jay Haas lost his two-stroke lead by shooting a birdie-less 75, and 54-year-old Hale Irwin watched his hopes of becoming the oldest major championship winner vanish with a 78.
Woods and Weir might get their stiffest challenge from 19-year-old Sergio Garcia and 26-year-old Stewart Cink, each with 68s that left them two strokes back at 207.
"If he keeps playing the way he played today, maybe we'll have to look for second place," Garcia said of Woods.
Weir wasn't so quick to agree, and neither was Woods.
"I just enjoy being in a position where everyone is trying to beat me," Woods said. "If you have a lead, everyone else will have to shoot that much better. But that's not the case here."
Woods has been the best player in the world this summer, winning three times and finishing no worse than seventh in his other three events. He also knows what it's like to win a major, although the pressure will be slightly different than Augusta, where he took a nine-stroke lead into the final round.
"A nine-shot lead... you're more nervous over that because if you do lose it, then it looks like you can't finish off a big round of golf," Woods said, recalling Greg Norman's spectacular collapse in the 1996 Masters.
"Tomorrow it won't bas difficult," he said. "But it will be difficult. I'm going to have to go play a good round of golf tomorrow."
Weir began shaking his head as soon as he was asked whether Woods could be beat if the former Masters champion keeps up his strong play.
"There's so many good players in this game, anybody can have a hot day tomorrow and win this tournament," he said, refusing to back down from the challenge.
Weir's only victory in America came last November, when he was the medalist in the PGA Tour's qualifying school. He was a forgotten man in his two best tournaments this year, a tie for fifth in Atlanta, where Duval won his fourth tournament of the year, and second in the Western, where Woods is always a gallery favorite.
While Woods will rely on his experience of contending in his third straight major, and the memories of winning a major, Weir expects to draw from his past failures.
He didn't turn pro at age 20 and win two times in his first seven tournaments. It took Weir five years after he graduated from college to even get to the PGA Tour... and then he lost his card.
"I'll always have those times, those tougher times, in my memory bank," he said. "I know how tough it is to get out here."
Still, similarities abounded on a day on which the sun finally broke through the clouds and shone brightly on a dazzling array of shots.
Woods made three straight birdies, including a 50-foot putt from off the green on No. 6, to soar into the lead. He shaped shots around trees, and played under trees with an amazing contortion of his body after his swing to keep the ball below the branches.
Weir showed surprising grit for someone who has never contended in a major. After missing a 4-foot par putt on the 13th, he holed out for eagle on the par-5 14th, and boldly attacked the pin on No. 17 for birdie.
He also escaped trouble in Tiger-like fashion, going from the rough to the bunker on the last hole, then making a 4-foot putt for par to keep a share of the lead.
There won't be any talk of a Woods-Duval rivalry. Duval, who regained the No. 1 ranking this week, missed six birdie putts inside 15 feet on the front nine and finished with a 72, eight strokes out of the lead.
How about Woods vs. Weir?
"How can you have a rivalry when you've only played twice?" Woods said.
Even more tantalizing is the prospect of Woods and the 19-year-old Garcia, who virtually sewed up a spot oEurope's Ryder Cup team this week.
"I didn't know shooting 4-under that I was going to be that far from the lead," Garcia said. "I'm going to do my best to try to catch him."
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