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Perry stays solid in fierce wind

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KAPALUA, Hawaii — Scott Verplank eagled the final hole to catch Kenny Perry after three rounds of the Mercedes Championships, the season-opening tournament that is looking more like a tuneup for the British Open.

In gusts up to 40 mph, so strong that tournament officials moved up four tees once the third round started, Verplank still managed a 3-under-par 70 and was at 206. Perry three-putted the 18th for a 71 and was also at 13 under.

Chris DiMarco had a 5-under 68, despite a double bogey on the par-5 fifth that summed up the tough conditions. His 8-foot par putt stopped a foot from the hole, and as he got ready to tap it in, the wind carried it 7 feet.

DiMarco was at 207, tied with PGA champion David Toms (72).

"This is no fun," said Mark Calcavecchia, three strokes back after a 71. He holed out from the fourth fairway for eagle and closed with four straight birdies.

"It's about a 20 on the Stimpmeter on some holes," he said. "You get the ball going and you can't stop it. A little wind is not bad, like 25 mph. But not 40. This is brutal."

Sergio Garcia also had a 68 and was at 210, along with David Duval (72).

"If I would have shot 5 under on Thursday, I would feel like it was 1 or 2 over," the 21-year-old Spaniard said. "Today I shot 5 under and I feel like I shot 9 (under)."

Tiger Woods got to the 18th hole and saw another set of tees that had been moved some 40 yards farther up.

"Maybe they want us to break 80," he deadpanned. He just missed an eagle putt, but the damage already had been done.

Woods suffered another dubious start, flaring his iron out to the right on the first hole and landing under a tree. He wound with a double bogey, then missed the next green by 30 yards to take a bogey.

Just like on Friday, when he started with a triple bogey, he never quite recovered. Woods finished with another 74 and was 10 strokes behind.

It was the first time he has had consecutive rounds over par since the U.S. Open at Southern Hills (74-71), and the first time it has happened in a regular tour event since going 75-75 in the final two rounds of the 1999 Players Championship.

"Not a good start, but I fought back," Woods said. "It was a heck of a fight."

It was hardly a walk in the park for anyone.

Woods saw how much worse it could have been after spending four hours with Robert Damron, who hit two consecutive balls into the tall weeds and didn't bother looking for the second one until he was told someone found it.

"Great," he said. "Last thing I want to do is hit that shot again." He rallied for an 85.

Steve Stricker avoided an 80 by making birdie on the final hole. Davis Love III had a 41 on the back nine and shot 78.

Even the guys who were playing well had an interesting time in the big Kona wind.

Garcia hit a driver on the opening hole and a 7-iron into the green during his practice round. On Saturday, he had to muscle a 3-wood to reach the green, from 243 yards. Of course, he also hit an 8-iron from 205 yards to about a foot from the hole.

Verplank has been in this spot before with mixed results. He had at least a share of the lead through 54 holes last year in Dallas, the Canadian Open and the Tour Championship, and won only in Montreal.

But these conditions are perfect for a guy who lives in Oklahoma, and Verplank showed plenty of patience along the way. He started with bogeys on the first two holes, then took a double bogey when he lost a ball on the 14th after moving into a tie for the lead. He got it back with his 7-iron in the 18th for an eagle, putting him in the final group Sunday.