February 11, 2012

Tiger moves into contention with third-round 67

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Tiger Woods carded six birdies and one bogey Saturday to shoot a 5-under-par 67 at Pebble Beach Golf Links to vault into contention in the $6.4 million AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

He has a 54-hole score of 11-under 203 and sits in third place, four strokes behind Charlie Wi.

In only his second start of 2012, Woods is once again in the title hunt. Two weeks ago, he tied for third in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

“That’s why we play is to be there and that’s why I train as hard as I do and practice as hard as I do is to put myself in those positions,” said Woods. “It feels good.”

With Wi playing so well, Woods knew he had to try and keep him within sight.

“I was just trying to keep in touch with Charlie,” Woods said. “I needed to at least close the gap so I’m within touch tomorrow. I figured I had to shoot a good one today.”

Playing in cool, damp conditions, Woods was an early back nine starter with pro Arjun Atwal and amateurs Tony Romo and Danny Lane. Tiger’s caddie, Joe LaCava, wore a ski cap and most caddies were attired in long pants. Woods kept his hands in his pockets most of the day.

Tiger two-putted the par-4 10th and par-4 11th holes for par, the latter from a precarious position from above the cup.

At the testy, par-3 12th, Woods came up short-left with his tee shot, then gouged a sand wedge 10 feet below the hole and two-putted for a bogey. Playing directly into the wind, Tiger drove into the left fairway bunker at the uphill, par-4 13th, and got away with a poor 9-iron, the ball bouncing on a knob just right of the green and kicking left, two feet from the cup for an easy birdie.

“I hit a bad iron shot there,” he said. “Sometimes we need those type of momentum swings in a round, and from there I made some putts.”

The good bounce ignited Woods, who added another birdie at the 573-yard, par-5 14th. Tiger hit his blind, uphill third shot from 110 yards within 11 feet of the hole and poured in the putt.

Woods made it three-in-a-row at the downhill, 397-yard, par-4 15th. He punched his second shot from 130 yards, 22 feet from the cup and buried the putt, pumping his right fist. With his large gallery growing at every hole, Woods just missed a 23-foot birdie attempt at the par-4 16th. But he collected another birdie at the 178-yard, par-3 17th, rolling in a 22-foot putt as light rain began to fall.

Woods hit a poor drive in the right rough at the famous 543-yard, par-5 18th hole, arguably the most photographed finishing hole in golf. The right side of the fairway was lined two and three deep with fans from start to finish, and Woods gave them something to cheer about. He spun his third shot from 130 yards eight feet behind the cup and nailed the birdie putt, then tipped his cap to the crowd.

“I probably could have birdied six holes in a row,” he said. Tiger toured the back nine, considered the tougher of the two, in 4-under 32.

The light mist gave way to high clouds as Woods moved to the front side looking to maintain his momentum. He made a nice save at the par-4 first, where he drove into the right rough, hit his second shot into the right, greenside bunker, blasted five feet from the cup and converted the putt.

Woods tallied his sixth birdie of the day at the par-5 second. After finding the right side of the fairway off the tee, his second shot came up just short of the green. Tiger judged the chip perfectly, leaving a two-foot birdie putt, which he made.

At the par-4 third, a sharp dogleg left, Woods drove into the left rough. He knocked his second shot onto the front edge of the green and two-putted for a par from 24 feet. Tiger split the fairway at the short — 331 yards — uphill, par-4 fourth hole. Thinking birdie, he hit a poor wedge into the front-right bunker, blasted 10 feet past the pin and made a clutch, par-saving putt.

With the sun finally poking through the clouds, Woods two-putted the par-3 fifth hole, just missing an 18-foot birdie putt. At the 513-yard, par-5 sixth, which is flanked by the Pacific Ocean on the right and features a blind, uphill second shot, Woods drove into the right rough. He went for the green with his second shot and missed long, left. Faced with a 60-foot chip, Tiger pitched 16 feet past the cup and two-putted for a disappointing par.

Wind is usually a factor at the short but exposed 104-yard, par-3 seventh and was blowing about 20-miles-per-hour. Woods punched a wedge 32 feet behind the hole and two-putted for a par.

The 418-yard, par-4 eighth hole requires a blind tee shot up a hill, with the ocean lurking on the right. The second shot must carry a deep chasm and the green is tough to hit, sloping severely from back to front.

Woods hit a long iron off the tee and found the left side of the fairway, but was left with 215 yards to the hole. He hit a nice approach shot 12 feet left of the cup but couldn’t take advantage of it, missing right.

The 466-yard, par-4 ninth hole has been the toughest of the week at Pebble Beach. Woods hit a 320-yard drive into the left rough and had 171 yards remaining for his second shot. From there, he hit his approach on the front-right fringe and had 51 feet to the back-left pin position. Tiger stroked his birdie attempt within two feet of the cup and tapped in for a par.

Woods hit 14 of 18 greens and seven of 14 fairways in regulation and used 27 putts.

“I didn’t hit it as well as I did the last two days but made some more putts and really managed my game well,” Woods said. “I missed in all the right spots, and even though my game was slightly off today, it’s not as off as it used to be, which is very good.”

Woods and Romo partnered in the pro-am competition and stand at 19-under, good enough to make the cut.

They will tee off Sunday at 12:29 p.m. ET with Phil Mickelson and his amateur partner, Skip McGee.