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ONE MAJOR HURDLE REMAINS

Garcia, 0-for-34 in majors, heads into last round with a 3-stroke lead.

In the damp, gray gloom late Saturday afternoon, Sergio Garcia and his orange sweater went stalking after his golf ball as he watched his second shot rip through the chilly drizzle toward the 18th green.

Talking as he walked, it was as if Garcia were chasing something.

He was.

Sunday.

Garcia begins the final round of the British Open today with a three-stroke lead over Steve Stricker and six clear of everyone else as he pursues his first major championship victory.

The 27-year-old Spaniard whose potential has seemed as bright as his wardrobe has started other major championship Sundays flirting with the trophy. This is the third time he has played in the final pairing of a major (2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage and 2006 British Open at Hoylake are the others), but he has never started with the lead and with Tiger Woods eight strokes behind.

"It's going to be a hard day but hopefully one to remember," said Garcia, who didn't make bogey while shooting 68 in dreary conditions Saturday.

Since he birdied his first hole Thursday on his way to an opening 65, this British Open has been dominated by Garcia, who is 0-for-34 in the big ones. He has minimized his mistakes, making only three bogeys in 54 holes, and putted with a newfound confidence that came with the belly putter he recently adopted.

A Stricker win would be no less epic. He has rebounded from two huge slumps, twice losing his tour card. But Stricker has blown up on the back nine this year with a chance to win three tournaments, including the U.S. Open, where he had back-to-back double bogeys on the 10th and 11th holes.

"I really felt like that was mine to win, even though deep down you've got to believe you're going to win, and that was the way I was feeling at that tournament making the turn," he said. "To make double at 10 and 11, I really felt that I let that slip away. But I've just got to keep moving forward. I take all of this as a positive."

Sounds like the guy he's trying to catch. When a reporter began a question by saying, "I don't want to rekindle any bad memories ...," Garcia interrupted him with, "Okay, don't."

Garcia knows it's up to him. If he doesn't implode, he should have the claret jug.

"I think everybody is hoping for wind," said three-time major champion Ernie Els, who sat six shots back after 68. "Otherwise, Sergio is so solid it seems right now; he's not making any mistakes. It's in his hands now."

"I see myself close to everyone except Sergio," said Jim Furyk, seven back after 71. "He'll dictate what happens. If he shoots under par, then he'll take a lot of folks out of this tournament."

One guy Garcia won't have to think about is Woods.

Trying to become the first player in more than 50 years to win the British Open three straight times, Woods beaned a 63-year-old woman in the head. It left her bandaged and bleeding, and Woods queasy at the sight of blood on the links.

He wound up with 69, leaving him eight behind at 1-under 212. Woods has never won a major from behind, and only once has he made up an eight-shot deficit on the final day of any tournament - the 1998 Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand.

"I've got to be playing a little better than I have been, that's for sure," Woods said. "But at least I gave myself a chance going into tomorrow. Paul (Lawrie) came from 10 back in '99. Certainly, you can do it around this golf course."

Nothing Garcia has done would indicate he's headed for a meltdown.

After hitting a photographer with an approach pulled left of the 17th green, Garcia punched his ball out from the long strands of rough to within a few feet of the cup. He tapped in for par 4 and headed to the 499-yard, par-4 finisher.

He split the fairway with a long iron and hit one more iron to the green, shouting, "Be good!" as his ball flew through the mist and settled 10 feet from the cup. After two putts for par, he retired to the scorer's shed, where he signed his name and embraced the moment in front of him.

"I'm not going to do anything differently," Garcia said. "I'm just going to play my own game and believe in myself. The only thing I can do is control myself. If I'm in control of the way I am hitting the ball, it's right there for the taking."

FAST FACTS

Wire to wire

Golfers who have been the outright leader after each of the four rounds of the Open:

Golfer Year

Ted Ray 1912

Bobby Jones 1927

Gene Sarazen 1932

Henry Cotton 1934

Tom Weiskopf 1973

Tiger Woods 2005

Making History?

Out in front

Sergio Garcia had never had the lead going into the weekend at a major. Five of his 12 top-10 finishes have come at the British Open:

Year Masters USOpen British PGA

1996 DNP DNP CUT DNP

1997 DNP DNP DNP DNP

1998 DNP DNP T29 DNP

1999 T38 DNP CUT 2

2000 T40 T46 T36 T34

2001 CUT T12 T9 CUT

2002 8 4 T8 T10

2003 T28 T35 T10 CUT

2004 T4 T20 CUT CUT

2005 CUT T3 T5 T23

2006 46 CUT T5 T3

2007 CUT CUT -- --

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