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Saturday, September 17, 2005
Gore shot a 5-under to close in on first PGA Tour title

Associated Press

FARMINGTON, Pa. -- Get out the beer and chips, pull up the recliner. Jason Gore, the everyman's version of a PGA Tour pro, is playing in the final group on Sunday again.

Only this time, Gore doesn't want to play like someone pulled out of the grandstands, given a visor and a golf glove and told to compete against some of the world's best players for a championship.

Gore, whose rags-to-riches-to-rags odyssey and spectator-like physique instantly made him into a fan favorite at the U.S. Open, shot a 5-under 67 Saturday to open a two-shot lead over a group of five after three rounds of the 84 Lumber Classic.

"It's where you want to be," Gore said of being in the lead. "It's only what you make of it, and it's still golf tomorrow. It should be exciting."

Gore got off to a great start by chipping in from 63 feet for an eagle 2 at the 371-yard, par-4 first, and had six birdies to offset three bogeys for his second round in the 60s in three days. He had an opening-round 65 on Thursday and an even-par 72 Friday.

Gore leads a group of relative no-names, including Craig Barlow, who is 108th on the money list but was tied with Gore at 12 under before taking a double-bogey 7 at No. 16. His pitch from a pot bunker alongside the green squirted into a deep patch of hillside rough.

"I have to eliminate a few mistakes -- to win out here, you can't have mistakes," said Barlow, who had a third-round 70. "I've had a double bogey every day and I'm still, what, tied for 2nd?"

Also at 10-under 206 are Tag Ridings (67), Carlos Franco (68), Rod Pampling (69) and Carl Pettersson (70). Three back are Justin Leonard (70) and Chris DiMarco (67) -- hey, finally some recognizable names -- and Cameron Beckman (73).

"I'm in good position," DiMarco said.

As far as no-names go, Gore was as anonymous as a player can be until making a name for himself at the U.S. Open, though not entirely for the right reasons. Somehow playing his way into the final group on Sunday, he shot a 14-over 84 at Pinehurst No. 2 that dropped him all the way to a 41st-place tie.

Despite the humbling experience for a likable golfer whose paunch and gee-whiz demeanor give him a John Daly-like persona on a PGA Tour known for its country club primness and polish, Gore's career took off after that Sunday meltdown.

And, yes, his caddie is still wearing his Pabst Blue Ribbon cap, not because of a promotional tie-in but because he and Gore like that brand.

"I think I learned so much the last round of the Open that I was able to take it into the Nationwide events, knowing that I'm probably not going to see anything ever like what I dealt with at the Open," he said. "It just kind of puts it all in perspective."

His confidence somehow intact after Pinehurst, Gore went back to the Nationwide Tour and won three straight times, shooting a 59 along the way. Now, he's trying to pull off a feat similar to that of Paul Stankowski by winning on the developmental tour and the PGA Tour in the same year. Stankowski took the 1996 Louisiana Open and the PGA Tour's Bell South Classic in consecutive weeks.

Stankowski got into the Bell South as a sixth alternate; Gore, who was playing on the minor-league circuit only last month, would be the first to win on the PGA Tour in the same season he earned the automatic promotion that goes to anyone winning three times on the Nationwide Tour.

"It would mean a lot," Gore said.

Gore, who also played on the PGA Tour in 2001 and 2003 but couldn't keep his card, isn't performing against a weak field, either. Four of the top six money winners, including No. 2 Vijay Singh and No. 3 Phil Mickelson, were in a better-than-average field for a post-major event.

Mickelson almost missed the cut at the $4.4 million tournament, but had a fifth PGA Tour career hole-in-one Saturday and is seven off the lead after a 67. Singh is nine strokes back after a third-round 73.

The 31-year-old Gore has never finished higher than an 18th-place tie in a PGA Tour event, and his year-to-date PGA earnings are $40,399 -- a wage the average fan can relate to, unlike Tiger Woods' $8 million-plus winnings.

"I've got them all fooled," Gore said, laughing, of his newfound fan popularity.

Gore is the seventh to be automatically promoted from the Nationwide to the PGA Tour; the best previous finish in the same season was Chad Campbell's 2nd at the 2001 Southern Farm Bureau Classic. ... DiMarco won the tournament in 2000, when it was known as the Pennsylvania Classic and was played in the Philadelphia area. ... Barlow has been in the Top 25 in four of his last five starts, but never won in 209 previous PGA Tour tournaments. ... Mickelson's hole-in-one was his first since the 2001 U.S. Open. ... Second-round leader Stuart Appleby shot a 75 and is four back at 208. ... One of Gore's Nationwide wins was in Bridgeport, W. Va., about an hour south of Farmington. Gore first began playing golf during a summer spent working at his uncle's course in Export, Pa., near Pittsburgh. His mother grew up in Pittsburgh.