Tiger Heads Into Sunday At The Open Tied For 6th
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Saturday’s have brought out the best in Tiger Woods this year, and he thrived again in the third round of the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Links.
Taking advantage of the tame conditions and setup, he fired a 5-under-par 66 and surged into a share of sixth place heading into Sunday’s final round.
Woods has a 54-hole score of 5-under 208 and will be chasing a trio of young Americans – defending champion Jordan Spieth, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele, knotted at 9-under 204.
Woods started the third round tied for 29th, six strokes back.
“I played well today,” said Woods. “I really did. I hit a lot of good shots.”
He entered the tournament with the best third-round scoring average on the PGA Tour: 68.44. Bettering that in a major made it sweeter.
“It’s been a few years since I’ve felt like this in a major,” he said. “I really felt like I had control of my golf ball. And, on top of that, I made some longer putts, which was nice.”
None was bigger than at the first hole, where he pulled his short second shot left of the green, hit a poor chip, then saved par with a 15-footer.
Woods birdied five of the next 10 holes, including a 35-foot bomb at the par-4 ninth that dented the back of the cup.
After shooting 3-under 33 on the front nine, he nearly holed out a 9-iron from 140 yards at the par-4 10th, resulting in a kick-in birdie. He made it three-in-a-row after almost driving the par-4 11th, two-putting for birdie from 95 feet.
Woods got the Carnoustie crowds buzzing following a nice two-putt birdie at the par-5 14th. That lifted him into a share of the lead and the fans erupted when his hand-posted score was updated on the giant yellow scoreboards.
“I didn’t know I was tied for the lead,” said Woods. “I was just trying to concentrate on playing the last four holes under par.”
The last time he led or shared the top-spot in a major was at the 2012 PGA Championship, when he was tied after 36 holes.
Woods nearly assumed first place alone at the par-4 15th, where his 20-foot birdie putt burned the right edge of the cup. He hit a quality tee shot at the tough par-3 16th, but got unlucky when his ball caught a slope and rolled off the green to the right. Woods left his uphill birdie putt seven feet short and missed the next, his only bogey of the round.
“Two terrible putts,” he said.
Woods regrouped quickly, making two solid swings at the demanding par-4 17th. His 20-foot birdie putt didn’t scare the hole, but left a stress-free tap-in for par, always a bonus at 17.
The bad break at 16 evened out at 18. Woods pulled an iron toward Barry Burn, but remarkably, the ball just cleared the burn and settled in thick rough.
“The only bad swing I made all day,” said Woods, a three-time winner of the coveted Claret Jug.
With 240 yards to the green, fronted by a burn, he wisely gouged his second shot back into the fairway and had 83 yards to pin. Woods liked the number and proved it, flagging his next shot three feet behind the hole and converted the par-saving putt.
“Just like the ones I’ve practiced in my backyard,” he said.
The last time Woods broke 70 in a major was 11 years ago to the day (July 21, 2007) at Carnoustie, when he posted 69. The 66 was his best in any major since a second-round 66 at the 2011 Masters.
Saturday marked the third time in his career he has started a major championship with three rounds of par or better. Woods went on to win three of the five.
Playing partner Shaun Norris of South Africa was amazed by the atmosphere.
“It’s absolutely crazy to think so many people can follow a person,” said the well-traveled 36-year-old. “There’s a couple holes that people may be standing 15, 20 deep on each side. I think the best word to describe it all is the way Russell Knox put it, it’s like playing with a mythical creature. It doesn’t feel real.”
Following the round, Woods signed several golf gloves for Norris to give to his friends.
After playing conservatively the first two days – partly due to the tougher conditions – Woods was more aggressive off the tee. He hit driver a combined four times on Thursday and Friday – three in the latter – but used it six times Saturday. Most were flushed and four led to birdies.
“The course was gettable,” said Woods. “I didn’t want to be too far back.”
The average score was 70.23, the lowest in eight Opens at Carnoustie.
Woods seemed calm and comfortable. He hit 12 of 15 fairway, 14 of 18 greens and recorded 29 putts.
On Sunday, the 42-year-old Woods seeks his 80th career victory on the PGA Tour and 15th major title.
He tees off at 2:25 p.m. local time (9:25 a.m. ET) in the third-to-last group with Francesco Molinari of Italy.
There is a slight chance of morning rain, but wind could increase to 25-miles-per-hour later.
Having missed the last two Opens due to injury, Woods is thrilled to be in this position. He is tied for first in driving accuracy (76 percent), has yet to record a double bogey, and avoided every bunker Saturday.
Woods has already posted three top fives and five top 12’s this season, his best showing second at the Valspar Championship. In a sense, he’s playing with the house money.
“I’ve had a chance to win,” said Woods. “Given what happened the last two years, I didn’t know if that would ever happen again. But here I am with a chance Sunday in a major championship. It’s going to be fun.”
Norris wouldn’t be surprised to see him holding the claret jug.
“I wouldn’t put it past him,” he said.