-- One bad swing kept Ernie Els from a runaway today in the Mercedes Championships. A record round by K.J. Choi gave him a fighting chance.
Despite a double bogey on the 17th hole, Els shot an 8-under-par 65 in breezy conditions at Kapalua and took a two-stroke lead into the final round of the season-opening tournament.
Choi broke the Plantation Course record with an 11-under 62, although that didn't seem to do much good until a few lapses by Els at the end.
Els had a five-stroke lead when he was caught between clubs on the 17th tee. He opted for a 3-wood, tried to swing too hard and hooked it badly into the hazard, leading to his second double bogey of the tournament.
Choi made birdie on the 18th to break by one the record previously held by Mike Weir and David Duval. More importantly, it cut the deficit to two strokes. It stayed at that margin when Els missed a five-foot birdie putt on the final hole.
"The last two holes changes things a little bit," Els said. "In another way, it makes me focus. I don't have to protect. I have to be aggressive."
It was the first time Els failed to make at least a birdie on a par 5, and it set the stage for what could be quite a duel at Kapalua.
Three years ago, Els went toe-to-toe with Tiger Woods in the final round, losing on the second hole of the playoff.
Even Woods, who is out for the first five weeks recovering from knee surgery, might not be able to hang with these two, who appear to be in midseason form.
Els was at 25-under 194, tying the PGA Tour's 54-hole record in relation to par. Gay Brewer also was 25 under through three rounds of the 1967 Pensacola Open.
Els and Choi will have a couple of other records within reach Sunday. The tournament record is 26-under 266, set by Duval in 1999. The PGA Tour record in relation to par is 28 under, set two years ago by Mark Calcavecchia in the Phoenix Open.
Better yet, no one else is in sight.
Former U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen had a 66, but was only at 201, seven strokes out of the lead.
Bob Estes (70), Chris Riley (67) and Jerry Kelly (67) were another stroke back.
Choi would have been a long shot to win in his first trip to Kapalua except for Els's mistakes over the final two holes.
The big South African was crushing his driver to places rarely visited on the Plantation Course, giving himself plenty of looks at birdie and making most of his putts.
He started to pull away on the 305-yard 14th hole after hitting his driver left of the green in thick rough, facing a steep bunker and only about 12 feet of green to the flag. Els hit a perfect flop shot that rolled into the cup for an eagle.
It was his fourth eagle of the tournament, after making only six eagles last year.