A roller coaster back nine for leaders

CHASKA, Minn. -- Caution? If Rich Beem, Justin Leonard, Fred Funk, Mark Calcavecchia and Tiger Woods had played the front nine at Hazeltine any more gingerly on Saturday, they'd have needed tap shoes.

Caution to the wind? If they'd made the back nine any more of a roller coaster, they'd sell tickets and move it to the Mall of America.

The top five players on the leaderboard played the front nine in a collective 1-over par (two birdies, three bogeys) -- a remarkable feat, considering the average score Saturday on the outward nine was 38.1 (par is 36) and there were nearly three times as many scores over par as under.

But it was a quiet nine, a thoughtful night, nine holes without any real fireworks.

"I think we were trying to jockey for position a little bit and trying to get through the first five or six holes in a certain rhythm," Beem said. "I'm not too sure we were really tip toeing, because it was extremely difficult and we were trying to get into a nice groove."

The back nine, however, was loud, exciting, unpredictable. There were 17 birdies and bogeys, a couple of lead changes. There were balls in bunkers, balls in the reeds, enough time in the rough to send in a search party. Woods played his final hole within an arm's length of the hospitality tents.

The final five were actually 1-under par for the back nine. When it was over, Leonard had a three-shot lead through 54 holes. Beem, Funk, Woods and Calcavecchia were left chasing.

"Physically, you're hitting shots that you normally wouldn't hit on this particular golf course," Woods said. "Shots this low and this flat, but you have to get the ball above those trees. It can do anything."

And it did on the back nine. The details:

  • Leonard got close with a 5-wood to two feet for birdie at the par-4 10th, and added two more birdies at the par-5 15th and the par-4 16th to get to nine under. There were only six birdies on the 16th hole all day.

  • Beem, 1-under on the front, birdied the 11th hole to grab the outright lead over Leonard. He held it through the 13th, lost it with a bogey at the 14th, nearly had a two-stroke penalty assessed when he brushed off his line on the 15th green with his hat (he wasn't penalized because his ball was off the green), and bogeyed the 17th after barely missing the water hazard. He had to hit an 8-foot putt on 18 just to save par.

  • Funk, playing catch-up after a bogey at the first hole, got to within two shots of the lead. But he proceeded to bogey the 13th, birdie the 15th and bogey the 17th to shoot 73.

  • Woods birdied the par-5 11th to get to within three shots of the lead. But he never made another move, parring the par-5 15th for the third straight day. And on 18, Woods hit a pair of Houdini shots -- in the morning, finishing his second round, he hit a 3-iron 202 yards out of a bunker to within 12 feet and made the par. Late Saturday afternoon, he drove into the hospitality tents, hit a big hook to short of the green, but couldn't get up and down for a par.

  • Calcavecchia, admittedly streaky, was at his schizophrenic best. He birdied 12, bogeyed 13, birdied 15, bogeyed 16 and bogeyed 18 to shoot 74. He's tied with Woods, five back of Leonard.

    How wacky was it? Funk saw Woods make a long par putt on the 16th hole, accented by a fist pump, and began preparing his own routine.

    "I told me caddie: 'If I make this, I'm going to de the exact same thing that Tiger did to the crowd and I know they would go crazy if I made it,'" Funk said. "I just said, 'God, I've got to make this putt.' And I left it short.

    "I had one opportunity to match him, and I couldn't do it," he said. "I was going to play with the crowd on that one. I had it all planned out. And it didn't work."

    There was a lot of that going around on the back nine Saturday.