Howell Leads in Hawaii Fujikawa Shines


2006 Sony OpenHONOLULU -- Tadd Fujikawa isn't going away.

One day after becoming the second-youngest player to make a PGA TOUR cut, the 16-year-old Hawaiian fired his second straight four-under 66 Saturday and was six shots behind leader Charles Howell III at the Sony Open.

Before this week, Fujikawa was best-known for qualifying for last year's U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Now, his 5-foot-1 frame stalked by large galleries at Waialae, he is blooming into a local legend.

'I don't have anything to lose [now],' said Fujikawa, who is at 7-under 203. 'I don't have to think about making the cut. It's very relaxing.'

Indeed, the high drama of Friday's round -- a clutch birdie at 16, a fist pumping celebration after rolling in a long eagle putt at 18 -- gave way to a calmer third round for Fujikawa.

He made bogeys at Nos. 2 and 16, but filled the holes in between with six birdies. Some of them, like a 15-foot putt at the third and a 40-footer from across the green at the 11th, seemed too good to be true.

Almost scripted.

This is the type of run another 16-year-old Hawaiian, Michelle Wie, hasn't been able to make in seven PGA TOUR starts. Wie missed the cut by 14 shots on Friday, then made her usual conciliatory comments.

Like Wie, Fujikawa appears poised and eloquent beyond his years, competent in dealing with the media and fully aware of the gravity of his performance. He claims he is playing the best golf of his life at just the right moment.

Of course. He's 16.

'My swing feels good, my putting feels great,' Fujikawa said. 'All I need to do is stick to my game and stay focused...I'm just going for everything. I have nothing to lose.'

He's lucky to be here at all. After being born 3 1/2 months premature, doctors gave him 50-50 odds of surviving.

Sixteen years and five days later, he's challenging on the PGA TOUR.

'I feel great,' gushed Fujikawa, now tied for eighth place. 'Being out here and experiencing what it's like to compete against the top professionals is something else.'

Howell shot a 5-under 65, the best round of the day, and stands at 13-under 197 for a one-shot lead over Luke Donald. The 2001 Rookie of the Year leads after 54 holes for just the third time on the PGA TOUR.

'This is the first event back if you didn't make the Mercedes, so you never know what you're gong to get,' said Howell. 'I need to stay calm [tomorrow] -- it's so easy to think ahead. I just need to play a good round and have some good fortune.'

Howell snuck up on second-round leaders Donald and Paul Goydos with four birdies on his last six holes, including two straight on 17 and 18. He hit just two fairways, but also needed only 26 putts.

'These fairways are hard to hit,' said Howell, who picked up his only win in 2002. 'At least I'm finding them hard to hit. Every hole there seems to be a cross wind, and it's just not easy.'

Once considered a young phenom himself, Howell marveled at Fujikawa's run.

'Clearly he's doing stuff that's really incredible,' said Howell.

Donald struggled early, made three birdies on his last 10 holes and had a 1- under 69. He made a tap-in birdie at the 18th to remain alone in second place at 12-under 198.

'The last couple of days I haven't gotten out of the gate well,' said Donald, who opened with a 63 Thursday then shot 66 Friday. 'I hit some good shots today, I just didn't convert many putts.'

Goydos had the same problem. After posting rounds of 66 and 63 in the first two rounds, he managed just an even-par 70 on Saturday and was at 11-under 199. Costly bogeys at the 15th and 16th were followed by a 2-foot birdie at the 18th.

'The putter was every bit as mediocre as it was special yesterday,' said Goydos, who led putting Friday but was well down the pack Saturday.

Ted Purdy (66) and Steve Stricker (67) are tied for fourth place at 9-under 201. Jim Furyk (69) and Paul Azinger (68) share sixth place at 202 -- one shot ahead of Fujikawa.

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