San Diego Open : Blackburn Finally Is Leader by One After His Third Straight 66

Times Staff Writer

A consistent Woody Blackburn took the third-round lead at the Isuzu-Andy Williams San Diego Open with an 18-under-par 198 at Torrey Pines.

The 33-year-old from Florida shot a 66 on Thursday and trailed by two strokes. He shot another 66 on Friday and trailed by one stroke.

Yet another 66 on Saturday finally moved him into the lead, one stroke ahead of Ron Streck and two ahead of Gary Hallberg.

"I'd hate to think I could shoot four 66s and not win," Blackburn said.

Nothing can be taken for granted here. Blackburn bettered the Torrey Pines 54-hole record by two shots, but 13 golfers remained within four strokes of him.

"Welcome to the tour," Blackburn said. "Scoreboard watching is useless. I'm just going to try to keep playing good and not look back."

Blackburn took the lead with a six-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole, breaking a tie at 17 under with Hallberg. Moments later, Hallberg bogeyed No. 15 to slip two strokes back.

Streck, playing with Blackburn, moved into second place with birdies on 17 and 18.

"I started real well and then I hit a lull on No. 10," Streck said.

Streck had reached 15 under with a 32 on the front nine but bogged down in a string of seven straight pars. When he salvaged par on No. 16 with an 18-foot putt, it triggered his fast finish.

Blackburn also broke loose after sinking a 40-footer for a birdie on No. 4.

"When I made that one, it got me going," he said.

Eight birdies (and two bogeys) over the last 15 holes gave him his third straight 66 and put him on top going to the final round for the first time in his 10-year career.

Though he teamed with Bill Kratzert to win the Walt Disney National Team Championship in 1976, Blackburn has never won an individual event. His closest brush with victory came in the 1981 Quad Cities Open, when he lost an eight-hole playoff.

In 1983, he missed the cut in 20 of his last 21 tournaments and lost his tour card.

Blackburn went to teaching pro Peter Kostis and started over.

"Right from scratch," he said. "A lot of it was very basic. Sometimes you can get too much into the technical aspects of a golf swing."

Obviously, there has been nothing wrong with Blackburn's swing this week. In three rounds, he is only one stroke away from Tom Watson's Torrey Pines record of 19-under par for four rounds.

"If Woody's going to shoot another 66, someone's going to have to shoot pretty low to beat him," Streck said.

Streck and Blackburn have played the first three rounds virtually hand-in-hand. Streck started with a 67 and followed with back-to-back 66s.

Hallberg and Peter Oosterhuis, the second-round co-leaders, both remained in contention. Hallberg held third place with his 69 (200), and Oosterhuis shot a 70 to slip into a tie for fourth with Fred Couples, Vance Heafner, Bobby Clampett and Johnny Miller at 201.

Sporting a different hat on Saturday, Hallberg got off to the same start.

"I started out with a bogey again, just like yesterday and the day before," he said. "So I knew it was going to be a good day."

Hallberg rallied with birdies on the second and fifth holes and an eagle on the sixth.

"I didn't make any putts after the sixth hole," he said. "It was a pretty bland day for me. I think I was thinking a little bit too fast."

Hallberg seemed to play his best golf when he was in trouble. He came out of a bunker 142 yards from the green to birdie No. 5 and came from behind a green to eagle No. 6.

"I tend to do better when I'm in trouble," he said. "I can be in the trees with a hole just big enough to get the ball through and draw a great picture. I can normally pull it off."

Hallberg has also drawn another picture in his mind. It has to do with today's 18th hole.

"You dream about being on the last hole needing a birdie or an eagle to win," he said. "It makes the whole 15 years of golf worth it."

At 26, Hallberg is only in his sixth year on the tour. Blackburn has paid his dues a bit longer, but he has to contend with the fact that Hallberg really thinks he owns the San Diego Open.

Hallberg won here in 1983 and lost a playoff against Gary Koch last year. More than 25% of his career earnings have come at Torrey Pines.

"I feel it's my tournament," Hallberg said, "and I don't want anybody to take it away."

Woody Blackburn, Ron Streck and several others have exactly that in mind.

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