Cink takes the lead as Tiger stumbles

Updated: 2006-08-27 09:22
AKRON, Ohio - Stewart Cink kept plugging away with a few clutch pars and enough birdies that he figured would keep him close to the lead. The surprise came when he glanced at a scoreboard and saw who he was chasing Saturday in the Bridgestone Invitational.

It wasn't Tiger Woods.

Before long, it wasn't even Davis Love III.

Cink was steady as Woods and Love took turns stumbling on Firestone South, shooting a 6-under 64 to take a one-shot lead over Woods, Love and Paul Casey of England in a World Golf Championship that quickly turned into a free-for-all.

"I was a little surprised because it's Tiger Woods and the way he's playing lately," Cink said. "But the way the course is, even the great Tiger Woods can make some bogeys out there."

Did he ever.

Woods made four straight bogeys — his longest such streak on the PGA Tour in nearly 10 years — and went from a two-shot lead to five shots behind in a span of six holes. He managed a smile at the end of the third round because Love also let everyone back into the tournament by losing a three-shot lead.

"I was lucky to keep myself in the ballgame," Woods said. "Davis had a chance to run away, but the lead is 9 (under) and I'm only one back. So it's a big positive."

Cink has positive vibes two, especially under these circumstances.

His last PGA Tour victory came two years ago at Firestone, a week after he was a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup team. Cink was picked again for the U.S. on Monday, and he finds himself 18 holes away from another victory.

But there's one big difference this year.

Cink, who was at 9-under 201, had a five-shot lead going into the final round two years ago.

"I've got a lot more of a dog fight on my hands," Cink said. "I don't control my own destiny nearly as much as I did at that time. So it feels quite differently. The one thing that is a common thread is I've played well and putted well this week."

Love took advantage of Woods' collapse by running off three straight birdies around the turn to build a three-shot lead, but he gave them all back over the final seven holes, including a 3-foot par putt his missed on the 16th. He wound up with a 70.

Woods settled down on the back nine and picked up two birdies for a 1-over 71, ending his streak of 11 consecutive rounds in the 60s and 17 consecutive subpar rounds. All that mattered was being only one shot behind, especially after trailing Love by five shots with eight holes to play in the third round.

Casey finished strong, rolling in a 15-foot birdie on the 16th and stuffing a wedge into 4 feet for birdie on the 18th to match Cink with a 64, putting him in the final group Sunday with Cink and Woods.

He also was surprised how the round unfolded.

"It was a bit of a shock for everybody to see the scores," Casey said. "Thomas (Bjorn) actually noticed it first. He said, 'The tournament has really opened up.' The way Tiger has been played, I didn't see it coming."

Jim Furyk was among five players who had at least a share of the lead Saturday until he dropped shots on two of the last three holes, shooting a 69 to finish at 7-under 203.

Lucas Glover (69) was another shot back, followed by Ernie Els (70), Adam Scott (71) and Kevin Stadler (70) at 205. All of them are very much in contention, especially if thunderstorms soften Firestone overnight.

Starting times have been moved up for the final round with hopes of finishing on Sunday.

Given his history at Firestone — four victories in eight years, never outside the top 10 — Woods appeared to seize control of the tournament when he chipped in from 25 feet on the third hole for birdie to build a two-shot lead.

But he said he struggled with his game on the practice range and was patching it together.

It fell apart quickly.

First came a three-putt from the back of the green on the par-5 fifth, followed by a 7-foot par putt that he missed after hitting into the bunker. On the seventh, he jabbed at a simple chip and came up 5 feet short, missing that par putt. And he kept his bogey train running on No. 8 by pulling a 5-wood so badly off the tee that it hit a spectator in the back.

It was his longest bogey streak since Woods made five straight in the second round of the Tour Championship at Southern Hills in 1996.

"My distance control was bad all day," Woods said. "I was short. I was long. I was left and I was right."

He paused on every tee box during his run of bogeys, rehearsing his swing and trying to stop the slide. One reporter thought he saw him grab his back and asked Woods later if anything was wrong.

"No, it wasn't my back," Woods said. "It was an elephant running over my back. The whole field just ran over me."

Cink was most pleased with a par.

He hit an awful tee shot into the trees on No. 3 and had to pitch back to the fairway. From 140 yards, he hit over the water to 8 feet and made his par. After birdies on the next two holes, he again went into the trees and got up-and-down from 55 yards short of the green.

"I was able to save myself, and save a good round," Cink said.

Love found another gear when Woods went into reverse, saving par with a 10-foot putt on No. 7, then holing birdies putts of 12 feet on the eighth and 5 feet on the ninth and 10th holes to reach 11 under. But he three-putted the 12th, missed the fairway on No. 13 and blocked the short par putt on the 16th.

"A lot like Tiger — I had a good streak and a bad streak and ended up with a chance to win," Love said.