Star-Bulletin Sports

Sunday, January 13, 2002

Sony Open

Jerry Kelly, who has a two-stroke lead over David Toms and John Cook, tries to close out the Sony Open today.

Kelly comes back
to cap crowded Sony

Looking for his first PGA Tour
win, he holds a 2-stroke lead over
David Toms and John Cook

By Paul Arnett

The big board at the Sony Open suddenly got crowded.

Second-round leader John Cook held a comfortable margin entering yesterday's trip around the Waialae Country Club. But that was gone with the tradewinds by day's end.

Jerry Kelly shot by a faltering Cook with a 65 to secure the top spot on the leaderboard with a 14-under-par 196. PGA Championship winner David Toms put himself in contention with a 7-under 63 that could have been even better, to catch Cook for a tie for second place entering today's final round of the PGA Tour's first full-field event of the year.

"Those last two holes were big, no question," Kelly said of the two birdies that gave him his two-shot cushion over Cook and Toms. "I've got great putters behind me, so, they're going to make putts and if they hit it well, they're going to shoot low.

"I know it's going to be a horse race. They always are out here. You don't back into anything. I'm just really happy about the state of my game right now. I feel like I've completely dialed in my swing. I'm a little bit of a perfectionist, which isn't a good thing in golf. But right now I feel good."

Unfortunately for Kelly, so does Toms, who lost the Mercedes Championships a week ago to Sergio Garcia in a playoff, but shook off that disappointment to finish at 12-under 198. Cook caught Toms with a birdie on 18 for an even-par 70. He just couldn't match the magic he whipped up on Friday en route to an 8-under 62.

Past Hawaiian Open winner Jim Furyk missed a short birdie putt on 18, but still managed a 64 to find himself three shots off the pace at 11-under 199 and still in contention. So are Stephen Ames (66-200), Charles Howell III (66-200) and Chris Riley (68-200), some of the young bloods looking to overtake the veterans who are more familiar with the tricky conditions of Waialae.

It's not a surprise that Cook, Furyk and Kelly are near the top of the leaderboard after three rounds. The three players have made it through to the weekend in all four of the Sony Open events.

Toms shot his way into contention with rare birdies on the first two holes, to almost catch Kelly, who kept his hopes alive for winning his first event. Toms, Furyk and Cook passed that quiz years ago, and promise to give Kelly a stern test today.

Kelly is no stranger to 54-hole leads. Twice last year he led going into the final round. He lost once in a playoff to Tiger Woods at the Players Championship.

Kelly also fell one shot shy to Cook at last year's Reno-Lake Tahoe stop on tour. A triple bogey down the stretch that day cost him dearly. And while he dealt with Cook's demons yesterday, there are still plenty of other golfers for Kelly to subdue in order to cash the $720,000 first-place check.

"I really didn't think it was a competition with him out there," Kelly said. "It's nice to play with nice guys."

Most of the field of 73, who survived the cut Friday, went low yesterday with 65 shooting par or better after three rounds. There are a half-dozen golfers within four shots of the lead, including Toms, who continues to have a hot hand.

"I feel like I'm playing good, solid golf right now," Toms said. "I'm not doing anything special. I'm not driving the ball great. Not really hitting as many greens as I normally do. I'm just scoring well the last couple of weeks."

Toms is making his first appearance at the Sony Open because his wife wanted him to stay over after the Mercedes Championships. If he wins today, look for him to make a return engagement to Hawaii next year. He has already played in three tournaments in the island chain since November's Grand Slam of Golf.

"We've really enjoyed being here," Toms said. "I have not been here in a bunch of years now. As long as I can get in that Mercedes Championships, I'd come back here also. I'd love to take care of that early. Get some better airfares that's for sure.

"If I have the same length putt on No. 18 tomorrow as I did last week (at the Mercedes) to win, whether I make it or not, it will be a successful week. I'd love that opportunity again, to come back and make it this time. There are so many things that go into winning. You try to be in control, but sometimes you're just not."

The Louisiana native is also seeking his fifth top-10 finish in his last seven tournaments dating back to the 2001 season. Beginning with his victory at the Michelob Championship, Toms has finished tied for sixth at the National Car Rental Classic at the Walt Disney World Resort, withdrew from the Buick Challenge, and placed second at The Tour Championship and at the Mercedes as well. Between those two second-place finishes, he placed 11th in the Williams World Challenge.

Furyk has also spent a lot of time in the 50th state. He and his wife are finishing a house at Kapalua. And while he didn't successfully defend his title at Mercedes last week, he still finished fourth and is a formidable foe on the Waialae course.

"David (Toms) kind of pushed me with the round he had," Furyk said. "The way he started, I thought he was going to shoot in the 50s. I had my chances, too, coming down the stretch. I kind of made a mistake leaving a birdie putt short on 18. It was six inches in the heart, but I'm still right there."

True, but it all comes down to Kelly. If he can avoid a disastrous hole and put up another round in the 60s, he will be tough to catch.

"It is very surprising this is only my third lead after 54 holes," Kelly said. "If you ask me, it feels like 10. I feel pretty comfortable. It's just golf tomorrow. Put all the cliches you want on it. Cliches are cliches for a reason. I just want to go out there and play my game one drive, one iron, one putt at a time."

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