Holding a share of the lead with Aussie David McKenzie heading into Saturday, Tiziani posted a 3-under 67 for a 54-hole total of 7-under 203, four shots better than McKenzie. Darren Griff of Salt Spring Island, BC, Tony Carolan, Lee Williamson and Kris Mikkelsen sit at 2-under 208.
For the first time since the tournament began, Mother Nature loosened her grip on the 6767-yard Sault Ste. Marie GC, allowing the field to play in dry, albeit cool, temperatures while keeping the swirling winds that had been the norm to a minimum. Just 7 of the 62 players are below par through three rounds.
But even as the conditions improved for the better, most players were not able to take advantage. Most, that is, except Tiziani. The 32-year-old birdied his first hole of the day, and when McKenzie began to stagger on the front side, Tiziani pulled away and never looked back. With birdies on thee of his first five holes, he gave himself some breathing room and held on to the lead thanks to some crucial par saves on the back side.
After cranking his tee shot behind a tree on the par-4 14th, Tiziani chipped onto the fairway, knocked his third shot to within eight feet before canning the par putt. Two holes later, his tee shot found rough and Tiziani was able to dig it out and found the green from 206 yards. On the par-3 17th, he missed the green left but chipped to within a foot.
There is no question those were huge shots for me, but even on 14, after hitting it close, I still had to make the putt, reasoned Tiziani, who won the 2002 Panasonic Panama Open, an unofficial Tour event. I caught a couple of breaks, but that may have made up for some of the putts I missed. I played well today, kept the pressure on everyone else and didnt really give them an opening.
This tournament is unfolding much like it did during the Tours last visit here in 1999, when current PGA regular Arron Oberholser defeated Carolan and Ian Leggatt by a Canadian Tour record 11 shots. Oberholser carried an eight-shot lead into the final round that year, four more than Tiziani will take into Sunday. And while the five-year Tour veteran must be feeling comfortable with just one day left, he isnt about to think of ways to start spending the $20,653 winners check just yet.
I expect more than one person to go low tomorrow, and anyone who is out here knows you need four good rounds to win on this Tour, he admitted. I am not going to worry about anyone else and what they are doing. If someone can shoot that score and come back to beat you, so be it.
Last summer, just across the International Bridge in Bay Mills, Mich., Tiziani came close to clinching his first official Tour win at the Bay Mills Open. Carrying a one-shot lead into the final round, he fired a 1-under 71 but it wasnt enough as former U.S. amateur champion Jeff Quinney came back to win by one. The second-place result has given Tiziani an idea of what he will have to do Sunday afternoon in order to hoist some hardware.
Not to make any excuses, but I wasnt on top of my game in Bay Mills. I am feeling very comfortable right now, and I have been hitting the ball better every day. Ive got one more day to go, and Ill just go in with the same approach. It was a test for me today, and as far as I am concerned, I passed.
McKenzie, who had seven top-10s in 14 events last year, wasnt nearly as enthusiastic as his playing partner Saturday. He bogeyed all five holes where he missed the green in regulation, and even three straight birdies beginning on number 15 couldnt brighten his mood. His putt on the 14th hole horseshoed around the cup and he lipped out on 18, otherwise he would crept to within two strokes.
You know, if you cant get up and down in this game you are going to make bogeys, said a frustrated McKenzie. What is there to be happy about? Not too much. Sure I came back, but I was awful. I am pleased I am still in the tournament, but not thrilled about much else right now.
Griff, the 1994 B.C. amateur champion, also had a few chances to get closer but was pleased with his position. His best finish in 2002 was a tie for third at the Greater Vancouver Classic, and he knows he has some ground to make up if he has his sights set on Tiziani Sunday. Still, he isnt going to tee it up with the intention of playing desperate golf.
Anytime you can be in the top-15 or 20 out here, you have to be playing well, he said. Obviously, I am going to need a good start and well see where it goes from there. As far as chasing pins goes, if you arent going after pins at this level, you arent confident in your game. Mario is playing well, but Ill see what I can get done Sunday.