Woods lurking behind leader Harrington

AKRON: Tiger Woods threw down the gauntlet at the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational on Saturday, but Padraig Harrington responded in style, earning a three-stroke lead after the third round.

Woods, a six-time winner of the event, birdied four of the final six holes to post the day’s best score, a five-under-par 65 in intermittent drizzle in the $8.5 million event. Three-time major winner Harrington wasn’t fazed, picking up four birdies of his own over the final seven holes, along with a soft bogey at the par-five 16th. The Irishman shot 67 to post a 10-under 200 total, with Woods alone on seven-under, while American Jerry Kelly was five shots behind in third place. South African Tim Clark, who was tied for the lead after 11 holes, was penalised two strokes for failing to replace his ball in its original position on the 16th green, after moving his marker out of Harrington’s way.

“At the end of the day, there’s probably never enough room between you and Tiger,” said Harrington, who was not aware that Woods was in second place until after the round. “I don’t think anything is going to be easy tomorrow. Tiger obviously loves this course. I know that 70 probably won’t be good enough. I’m building it up in my own head. I am not going to get away with anything easy tomorrow.”

Harrington can draw on some good memories, because he beat Woods the only time they have played together in the final pairing, winning a play-off at the 2006 Dunlop Phoenix in Japan. Woods said the difference between his second and third round was that he judged the speed of his putts better.

“Yesterday I didn’t make anything, but I hit a lot of beautiful putts that didn’t go in, because I didn’t hit the putts hard enough,” he said. “I hit the putts a lot harder today. I drove the ball pretty good all day and hit some really good iron shots.”

Harrington is unlikely to be intimidated by Woods in the final round. On the other hand, he has been struggling for most of the year while tinkering with his swing. And Harrington struggled at times in the middle of his round on Saturday, but used a deft short game to avoid dropping a shot, before knocking in three long birdie putts over the final seven holes.

Whether he has a big enough cushion to hold off Woods is the big question, but Harrington says that no matter what happens, he knows he is on the right track. “I know I will be a better player than last year,” he said. “Whatever happens, I’m not out there to prove anything to anybody.”