Imada builds a 2-shot lead at Torrey Pines


SAN DIEGO (AP)—Phil Mickelson hit a drive into a eucalyptus tree that nevercame down. D.A. Point had a chip from 30 yards short of the flag that tumbled 20yards over the green and into a hazard.

Ryuji Imada didn’t feel as though he played that much better Saturday in theFarmers Insurance Open. The difference was he turned trouble into pars, thenfinished with a bonus birdie that put gave him a two-shot lead at Torrey Pines.

“The score looks pretty solid,” Imada said after his 2-under 70. “But itwas a struggle out there.”

Phil Mickelson looks on after …
AP - Jan 30, 7:31 pm EST

Imada avoided the problems that stalled so many other players on the SouthCourse and wound up at 13-under 203. When his 35-foot birdie putt dropped on the18th, he had a two-shot lead over Ben Crane and 25-year-old Michael Sim ofAustralia.

Imada will be going for his second PGA Tour victory, along with aninvitation to the Masters.

And he surely likes his chances better than two years ago, when he finishedrunner-up at Torrey Pines. He started that final round 12 shots behind andfinished eight shots behind Tiger Woods .

“It he was here, I’m sure he’d be 10 ahead of me,” Imada said. “No, itwould be a different feel. But it’s still a good 18 holes of golf left, andhopefully, I can keep on playing the way I’ve been playing this week.”

Even without Woods around, Imada had reason to realize what kind of work wasahead of him.

Crane, who had a 69, is as scrappy as they come. He has made only threebogeys over 54 holes, and moved into contention with four birdies on his finaleight holes Saturday.

“You cannot predict what’s going to happen in this game, especially on thiscourse,” Crane said.

Sim is a rising star whose career has been slowed by back injuries, yet heshowed his potential last year by winning three times on the Nationwide Tour toearn an instant promotion to the big leagues. Trouble was, there was no room forhim in many tournaments.

“I’m happy to be out here now,” Sim said. “I’ve got an opportunity thisweek to win a golf tournament. I’d like to take full opportunity of thattomorrow.”

U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover had a 68, which included a double bogey onone of the easiest par 4s on the back nine. He was alone in fourth, three shotsbehind.

“Bad break, and maybe a bad decision, all on the same hole,” he said.“But all in all, pretty pleased. I got myself a little bit closer, and that wasthe goal today.”

Mickelson shot 70 and was in the group four shots back at 9-under 207.

Mickelson would not have predicted seeing a ball get stuck in a tree—twodays in a row. On Friday, it happened in his group to Ryan Palmer . This time, itwas Lefty who stared up into the eucalyptus tree, even sending a young fan upthe tree to help.

“My short game kept me in it,” Mickelson said. “I didn’t hit the ball theway I’ve been hitting it coming in. I don’t feel like it’s far off. But at leastI’m in a position now where a good round tomorrow can get it done.”

Mickelson and so many others were in range.

Brandt Snedeker , who played in the final group at Torrey Pines in 2007,birdied the last hole for a 68 and was in the group at 207 along with Mickelson,K.J. Choi (69), highly regarded rookie Rickie Fowler (70), Matt Every (72) andPoints.

Ernie Els had a 69 to lead the group at 8-under 208 that also featuredRobert Allenby , who has two victories and a runner-up finish in his last threetournaments.

“You can’t really fake it around here,” Els said.

That much was clear on a sun-filled day along the Pacific bluffs. Points wasone shot out of the lead and in front of the 14th green trying it pitch to aback pin. It came out a little strong, tumbled down the hill and into a hazard.

Even more adventurous was Mickelson.

He drove left over the cliff on the fourth hole and down the hill in theplants, just above Black’s Beach. Mickelson found his ball, managed to get itback onto the golf course and then thrilled his large crowd with a par.

He wasn’t as fortunate with his next mistake.

Mickelson hit another tee shot to the left on the par-4 seventh, and thefans could hear it clatter into a eucalyptus tree. They just couldn’t hear itland. By the time Mickelson arrived at the base of a tree, rules official SteveRintoul already had his binoculars out. He had spotted one ball lodged in thebranches, but couldn’t identify it as a Callaway with Mickelson’s markings.

One man offered to climb into the tree. Mickelson, not as spry at age 39,gave his full blessing. The man climbed 10 feet into the tree and shook with allhis might as the crowd cheered him on. The ball never came down, but it movedenough for Mickelson to realize it wasn’t his. He headed back to the tee and hitanother drive behind the trees, and did well to escape with double bogey.

By the end of the day, he still had a chance.