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Trio share lead heading in to last round

Robert Garrigus recovered from an atrocious start Saturday by holing a 50-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole to join Steve Stricker and Jonathan Byrd in the lead after three rounds of the Tournament of Champions.

Garrigus hit a 4-iron into a hazard to open with double bogey and followed with a bogey to quickly fall out of the lead he held after two rounds. By the end of the third, he was back where he started.

The eagle gave Garrigus a 4-under 69 and a good chance to become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2000 to win the season opener after winning the final event of the previous year.

Stricker turned an impossible lie into an unlikely birdie on the 12th hole, avoiding a loose piece of grass behind his ball in the bunker by hitting a 4-iron to five feet. It was part of a five straight birdies that carried him to an 8-under 65, a score he didn’t think was possible in a strong wind that makes the Plantation Course play at its longest.

Byrd, who has been around the lead all week, was steady as usual. He nearly holed a wedge on the 16th and settled for a tap-in birdie, but his pitch to the 18th was just long enough that it trickled down a slope and rolled 50 feet away. His two-putt par gave him a 67.

All three were at 18-under 201, three shots clear of Carl Pettersson, who had a 71.

Three Americans atop the leaderboard at least improved the odds of ending a streak at Kapalua in which international players had won the PGA season opener the past nine times.

Matt Kuchar had the lead at one point by making seven birdies in a nine-hole stretch, but he played even par over the final six holes for a 66 and wound up four shots out of the lead. U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell shot a 68 as he continued to get used to mountain golf atop the Pacific Ocean. He was six shots behind, along with Bill Haas (69).

Garrigus looked as though he might not break par the way he started. His caddie told him to slow down his swing, and a birdie on the third hole settled him down.

“I thought getting back to under par was going to be good for me,” Garrigus said. “That was a hell of a way to end the round.”

Stricker began making his move with a birdie on the ninth hole, but the 12th was his shot of the tournament. He described it as “a do-or-die swing.”

He had a grass divot left of his ball in the bunker, which was no problem. There was a 2-inch piece of grass behind the ball, and he called for a rules official to ask if he could move it, deep down knowing that he couldn’t. What he didn’t realize, however, was that he could not touch the grass piece at any point in his swing.

From 178 yards into the wind, he hit 4-iron that he brought from the inside and picked the ball cleanly from the sand. It caught the left side of the green and settled 5 feet away.

“You hit a shot like that, you want to make the putt,” he said. “That was the topper.”

He kept right on going, making a super fast putt on the 13th, using his superb wedge game for easy birdie putts on the 14th and 15th, and ending with another good pitch to 3 feet on the 18th.

“I didn’t think an 8-under round was out there,” he said. “But as I got into a roll on the back side, I kept wanting more.”


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