HARRISON, N.Y. - A burst of birdies in the Barclays carried Steve Stricker to a 6-under-par 65 and allowed him to zoom past K.J. Choi and into the lead yesterday at Westchester Country Club, the first time he has held the 54-hole lead in nine years.

Choi overcame errant tee shots on the back nine with a birdie-birdie finish to salvage a 70, leaving him only 1 shot behind.

Hunter Mahan tied a tournament scoring record with a 9-under 62 that took him from the middle of the pack to 2 shots behind.

Rich Beem, who needs a top-10 finish to avoid ending his season, overcame a rocky start with an eagle on the ninth hole and a 69, giving him his best position in a final round since February.

But it all starts with Stricker, who was at 14-under 199, which tied the 54-hole record at Westchester.

He played in the final group at the British Open and was tied for the lead going into the back nine in the U.S. Open, fading both times.

"One of these times, it's going to come out in my favor," Stricker said. "I haven't been beating myself up about not winning any of those events, but obviously, I would like to win. It's been a long time since I've won [2001], and I'm just going to try to bring as many positive thoughts to the table tomorrow as I can."

He was thrilled to simply be in this position.

Ten players were separated by 5 shots going into the final round, and they included two-time winner Ernie Els, who finished his round of 68 with an eagle on the final hole.

Former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy shot a 69 and was in the group at 203 that included Woody Austin (66) and Rory Sabbatini, who was among four players who had a share of the lead until he started missing fairways and making bogeys.

Steve Flesch (67) and Kenny Perry (68) joined Els at 204.


PORTLAND, Ore. - Lorena Ochoa capped her round with two bogeys but was helped by eight earlier birdies to give her a 66 and a 1-stroke lead over Sophie Gustafson in the Safeway Classic.

Gustafson, who had shared the lead going into the round with rookie Ji-Young Oh, shot a 68 to go to 10-under 134. Ochoa is at 11-under 133 at the Columbia Edgewater Country Club.

Champions Tour

SNOQUALMIE, Wash. - Ray Stewart, who made the Boeing Classic field by surviving a 10-man playoff in a Monday qualifier, shot a 4-under 68 and is the surprising leader at 10 under entering today's final round.

Denis Watson, Bruce Vaughn and Gil Morgan joined Scott Hoch at 6 under on the TPC at Snoqualmie Ridge.

European Tour

ZAANDVOORT, Netherlands - England's David Carter remained in contention for his first PGA European Tour title, shooting a 1-over 71 for a share of the third-round lead in the KLM Open.

England's Ross Fisher (68) and New Zealand's Steve Alker (69), also winless on the European Tour, matched Carter at 9-under 201 on the Kennemer course.


DALY CITY, Calif. - Colt Knost of Dallas is one step from completing a rare amateur golf double after beating Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela, 4 and 3, to advance to the finals of the U.S. Amateur Championship at the Olympic Club. Knost, who won the U.S. Public Links title in June, will face Michael Thompson of Tucson, Ariz., in today's 36-hole final.

Thompson beat Casey Clendenon of Houston, 3 and 2.