In Lehman's terms, Masters win in reach

THE BALTIMORE SUN

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tom Lehman will deliver a guest sermon at a church here this morning, not too far from the hallowed grounds of Augusta National. He also hopes to give another speech early this evening by the 18th green.

For winning the 58th Masters.

Lehman, a 35-year-old journeyman who nearly became a college golf coach during a six-year hiatus from the PGA Tour, emerged from the pack yesterday and took the lead going into today's final round.

With a sparkling round of 3-under-par 69 and a three-round total of 7-under 209, Lehman leads Spain's Jose-Maria Olazabal, who also finished with a 69, by one shot. Former Masters champion Larry Mize, who led after the first two rounds, is two shots back after an even-par 72.

It marks the first time Lehman, who has never won in six years on the PGA Tour, will go into a tournament's final round as the leader. His top finishes include a third place in his first Masters last year, but Lehman knows it is different this time.

"The best thing for me would be to go out and win the golf tournament, and the worst thing would be for me to lose the tournament, but there have been a lot better players than me who have lost," said Lehman.

One of those is former U.S. Open champion Tom Kite, who has had a couple near-misses here. Kite was in the same position as Lehman 10 years ago. He led by a shot and faded to a sixth-place tie with a 75.

"At 44, I would like to think I'm more mature to handle these things," said Kite, whose 1-under 71 yesterday left him three shots behind at 4-under 212.

Asked about about his three-shot deficit, Kite said: "Three or four shots is not a whole heck of a lot. A lot of big numbers can still be made. I don't know what the record is for making up shots, but it's a lot more than four shots."

Said Olazabal, 28, who is looking for his first major championship and third PGA Tour victory: "It's a good position to be in. I'm close. Hopefully I'll play well tomorrow."

Nine champions have made up four shots or more in the final round to win, the most recent being Nick Faldo, who made up five shots and then defeated Scott Hoch in a playoff in 1989. Jack Burke Jr. in 1956 made up the most shots (eight) to win in the final round.

Lehman took the lead when he followed a bogey by Mize on the first hole with a birdie at the second. After birdieing No. 7, Lehman was tied at 6-under when Olazabal eagled No. 8 by putting his approach on the 535-yard, par-5 hole just 4 feet from the cup.

Olazabal then took the lead when he stuck a 6-iron approach at No. 10 2 feet from the pin, then made the putt to go 7-under. But after Olazabal bogeyed the infamous par-3 12th, and Lehman bogeyed there to stay a shot behind, a 10-foot birdie at the short, par-5 13th put them both at 6-under. Another birdie at the par-5 15th gave Lehman the lead at 7-under.

Then came what he called "probably the greatest putt of my life."

His tee shot stopped at the bottom of the green at the 170-yard, par-3 16th. His ball was nearly 50 feet away, with a 20-foot break. The first 30 feet was uphill, the last 20 downhill. The roller coaster came to an end with the ball being swallowed by the cup, and Lehman picking up the ball and planting a kiss on it.

"Obviously, I wasn't trying to make that putt," said Lehman. "I just wanted to get it close."

Only a bogey at 18, after he put his approach from 100 yards into a green-side bunker, took some of the steam out of what had been a spectacular afternoon for Lehman. He shared the day's best round with Olazabal, and he did it while playing with Greg Norman.

Norman, considered a favorite going into the tournament, faltered after starting out at 4-under and a shot behind Mize. The reigning British Open champion, whose history of disappointments here is well-documented, finished with a 3-over Norman is now at 1-under 215, six shots behind Lehman.

Asked what it felt like to beat the world's top-ranked player by six shots in the third round of the Masters, Lehman said: "We're all competitive out here. We all have egos. I didn't want him to show me up or embarrass me."

Now comes the tough part, finishing it off. Lehman is attempting to do something that no player is believed to have done since Claude Harmon in 1948: win for the first time on the PGA Tour at the Masters. He won four Hogan Tour (now Nike Tour) events and once at a nonsanctioned tournament last year in Japan.

'It's a far cry from winning the Masters, but winning is winning," said Lehman, who also could become the first player to win a major for his first PGA victory since John Daly won the PGA Championship three years ago. "I don't feel I've gotten any less nervous playing smaller tournaments like I do playing in big tournaments like the Masters."

A year ago here, Lehman shared the first-round lead, but scores of 75 and 73 put him eight shots behind the leader and eventual champion Bernhard Langer. While he moved up with a final-round 68, and benefited from several blowups, most notably by Dan Forsman, Lehman thought he could have played better and finished closer to the top.

"I remember hitting a lot of good shots, but being a little conservative on the greens," said Lehman. "I should have been a little more aggressive with the putter."

Today, he won't have that option. Because there hasn't been any rain since Wednesday, the normally slick Augusta greens have been even faster than usual. And the pin placements, which were eased a bit the past two days after a lot of high scores Thursday, will be in their traditionally difficult, final-round locations.

"There are a lot of scary holes Tuesday and a lot more scary holes Sunday," said Kite. "There are still a lot of strange things and disasters happening to a lot of folks."

Barring any disasters today, something strange could happen to Tom Lehman today. He could win the Masters. And make a couple of speeches, one at church this morning and one at

Augusta National tonight.

THE MASTERS

The leader . . .

Tom Lehman .. .. ..70-70-69--209

. . . and selected followers

J.-M. Olazabal .. .74-67-69--210

Larry Mize .. ... .68-71-72--211

Tom Kite .. .. .. .69-72-71--212

Jim McGovern .. ...72-70-71--213

Ian Baker-Finch ...71-71-71--213

Tom Watson .. .. ..70-71-73--214

Complete scores: 15C

MASTERS UPDATES

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