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'Fluke thing' can't keep Tiger from top

ORLANDO — Even with a bizarre sequence of events that stalled his charge to a comfortable lead, Tiger Woods walked off the 18th green at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Saturday close to ending 30 months without a PGA Tour victory.

He had a one-shot lead. He has won 48 of the 52 times he has had the third-round lead.

He was hitting the ball so well that he had the putter in his hand for a birdie attempt on 38 consecutive holes.

And he was at Bay Hill, where he has won six times, including going 5-for-5 when entering the final round with the outright lead or share of lead.

"If you're in the lead, you've done some good things," Woods said after 1-under 71. "That's how I've always looked at it. And it's a nice position to be in."

He was at 11-under 205, one shot ahead of Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, who didn't make a birdie until the 17th hole but kept bogeys off his card for 71.

Ernie Els rekindled his hopes of getting into the Masters with six birdies in a round of 67 that left him three shots behind, tied with Ian Poulter (68).

Els is No. 62 in the world and needs to crack the top 50 after today to get an invitation to Augusta. He could get it by finishing alone in third, provided Matteo Manassero doesn't win in Morocco on the European Tour or Charles Howell III doesn't finish alone in second at Bay Hill.

Charlie Wi, who shared the second-round lead with Woods, shot 4-over 76 and was five back.

Woods had a four-shot lead after a birdie on the 13th hole when he made what he called his one bad swing, pulling his tee shot into a buried lie in the bunker on the 14th for a bogey.

On the 15th tee, an 18-year-old passed out and a woman screamed when she saw it, all while Woods was in the middle of his swing. He was too far along to stop and hooked his tee shot out of bounds near a swimming pool.

That led to a double bogey, and McDowell tied him for the lead with his birdie on the 17th. Woods, however, hit a daring shot out of the fairway bunker and over the water to 20 feet for a two-putt birdie on the 16th to regain the lead. "It was a solid day," Woods said. "Just happened to have one little fluke thing where a kid passed out."

Woods last won a tour event at the BMW Championship on Sept. 13, 2009.

LPGA: Top-ranked Yani Tseng remained in position for her second straight tour title and third in five events this year, shooting a bogey-free 3-under 69 for 12-under 204 and a three-stroke lead heading into the final round of the Kia Classic at Carlsbad, Calif. Jiyai Shin (68) was second. Seminole's Brittany Lincicome (73) was at 2 under.

Champions: Jeff Sluman shot 8-under 64 to tie for the second-round lead with Fred Couples (70) in the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic at Saucier, Miss. The leaders were at 11-under 133. Jim Thorpe (65) was two back.

europe: Matteo Manassero stayed in the running for the Masters by moving to within a stroke of the leader before darkness halted play in the third round of the Hassan II Trophy at Agadir, Morocco. He must win to boost his ranking into the top 50 to play at Augusta National next month. Damien McGrane remained atop the leaderboard at 12 under after 10 holes.

'Fluke thing' can't keep Tiger from top 03/24/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 24, 2012 11:14pm]
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