The Pack Closes In on Price : PGA Championship: Zimbabwean sees his lead cut to three strokes over Haas; Pavin, Mickelson are four back.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The gap is narrowing at the PGA Championship, in which the best golfers in the world took aim at Nick Price's five-shot lead and a few of them were somewhat lucky to finish.

As it is, Price will tote a three-shot lead into today's final round at Southern Hills, where the year's fourth and final major title will be won.

Even though Price already has one, the British Open, this still has to mean big pressure, the kind that can melt your confidence or your sand wedge, or both.

Surely, Price was going to be positively quivering in his bed Saturday night. How will he be, Nick at night?

"I guarantee you I will sleep well," Price said. "I always sleep well."

How could he be so sure?

"My kids aren't here."

The three players closest to Price are Jay Haas, who hasn't won a major, Corey Pavin, who hasn't won a major, and Phil Mickelson, who . . . you get the idea.

Price has been anointed by many here as golf's next god, but he shot a decidedly human 70 Saturday for a 54-hole score of 202. He also lost two strokes off his lead.

Price decided to look on the bright side, which seems to be rather large.

"Hopefully, today was the one bad round I'm going to have all week and I got away with even par," he said.

Price is three shots ahead of Haas, 40, who has won twice in the last six years. Haas' greatest gift might be that he is quite resilient. He shot 68 Saturday and survived his second triple bogey in two days.

"I didn't think it could happen again," he said.

Haas wasn't the only one of Price's principal pursuers to have something bad happen to him.

Mickelson's 67 included a double-bogey on No. 12, while Pavin had a double bogey at No. 14 on his way to a 69.

Mickelson and Pavin are tied for third at 206, one shot behind Haas and four behind Price. Then there is a three-way tie for fifth at 207 featuring Greg Norman, Ben Crenshaw and John Cook.

Price's round was steady, not spectacular, and he blamed his overly conservative attitude. No matter how much he enjoys being a front-runner, he acknowledged that his big lead altered his approach.

"It was a strange feeling going out there with a five-stroke lead in a major championship," he said. "It's a difficult situation. I've got everything to lose, I suppose, but I persevered."

So he did. Nothing like Haas, though. Start with the good: when Haas birdied No. 13 and Price bogeyed No. 12, Haas was within one shot of the lead.

Then came No. 15.

It's a routine 405-yard par four, but Haas played it anything but routinely. He pushed his drive and it nicked a tree and landed in the short rough 180 yards from the front of the green.

He knocked a seven-iron through the green and the ball landed in a back bunker. He mis-hit his chip shot and the ball landed in a valley behind the green.

Haas stubbed the chip and it barely got on the fringe of the green.

"Now I'm pretty shook," he said.

Haas missed his putt and the ball rolled six feet past the hole. He missed that putt, too. He made the next for a seven.

"I almost didn't even want to start adding it up," he said.

Price said he immediately noticed the scoreboard.

"I thought they made a mistake on the scoreboard," he said.

They hadn't. Haas pulled himself together with birdies on No. 16 and No. 17.

In all, Haas had seven birdies, two bogeys, a triple bogey and eight pars.

Pavin's double bogey might have been overshadowed by two great chip shots he made on the closing holes. He chipped in from 30 feet for a birdie on No. 16 and saved par on No. 17 when he chipped in again, this time from 40 feet.

"Well, it was an interesting day," Pavin said.

This is exactly what Price is hoping for today. Mickelson said if anyone is going to beat Price, he is going to have to come up with something special.

"He's at the top of his game," Mickelson said. "He's the best player in the world, I have no doubt about it. But I think if he doesn't shoot three- or four-under par, somebody's going to have a good shot at catching him."

Pavin said the pressure rests squarely on Price. He sounded a lot like someone trying very hard to get an edge.

"It's hard to lead a major championship going into the last round," Pavin said. "He's got a lot of pressure on him and it's going to be difficult.

"It's not an easy thing to do. So we'll just see what happens."

Price said he is ready.

"Those guys, I know they're all going to come at me tomorrow," he said. "I've already prepared myself for that."

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