February 24, 2018

Tiger shoots 69, Tied for 11th after Third Round

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods broke 70 on the PGA Tour for the first time in more than two years Saturday in the third round of the Honda Classic.
As good as he felt, it could have been better.

“It’s probably the highest score I could have shot,” Woods said, after posting a 1-under-par 69 on the Champion course at breezy PGA National. “I gave myself plenty of looks, I just didn’t make them.”

Woods is tied for 11th at even-par 210 and trails leader Luke List by seven strokes.

A confident and relaxed Woods was a picture of consistency through 14 holes, moving into the top 10 with two birdies and 12 pars. He burned the edges with several makeable birdie attempts, rolling the ball with perfect pace but was tad off with his line.

Then he entered the Bear Trap – holes 15-16-17 – named after course designer Jack Nicklaus. The trio are guarded by sand and water, and made considerably tougher by gusting winds.

Spot-on all day with his irons, Woods pulled a 6-iron way left at the 184-yard par-3 15th, a hole he doubled on Friday. Faced with a delicate, downhill shot from the rough over a bunker to a tight pin with water behind, Woods went with his patented flop and got unlucky when the ball hung up the fringe and failed to release toward the hole. He scared the cup with is third shot but sustained his first bogey.

At the difficult par-4 16th, which Woods bogeyed the first two rounds, he rebounded with two quality swings that left him 20 feet behind the hole. He gave his birdie try a good run but failed to convert.

The par-3 17th ranked as the hardest on the course Friday, but Woods was one of nine players who birdied it. Saturday, he yanked his tee shot way left and was unable to save par.

Looking to finish strong and gain momentum for Sunday, Woods knocked his drive into the left fairway bunker at the par-5 18th. With water guarding the left side, his only option was to lay up.

Woods being Woods, he smashed an 8 iron more than 200 yards just left of the green, leaving a short but testy uphill chip from a fuzzy lie. Woods considered his choices, then executed a well-judged pitch-and-run that stopped inches from the cup for a tap-in birdie, his first on a par-5 this week.

Woods’ ball-striking was crisp and his iron control sharp, especially on his stress-free front nine, where he carded one birdie and eight pars. He did make a nice par-save at the fourth, where his second shot carried the green.

Woods wedged to seven feet and drained the putt.

The turning point of his round came at the par-4 11th, where his drive found the right fairway bunker. Woods caught the lip with his second shot, knocked his third shot from 100 yards 17 feet from the hole, then buried the par putt, pumping his right fist.

Energized by the save, he swished a 14-foot birdie putt at the par-4 12th, walking it in.

For the round, Woods led the field in proximity to the hole with his irons. He hit 9 of 14 fairways and 13 of 18 greens, the latter his best mark in three starts this year. Woods used 29 putts.

The last time Woods scored in the 60s was at the 2015 Wyndham Championship when he tallied a third-round 66, a span of 917 days. That also marked the last time he was contention, Woods tying for 10th.

It didn’t hurt that Woods was paired with buddy Jason Dufner on Saturday. Echoing comments from other players, including Rory McIlroy and Brandt Snedeker, he thinks Woods is close to winning again.

“The stuff I saw at home was a little better than what I saw in San Diego and L.A., but I think he’s starting to get the wheels going a little bit and figuring out how to play golf again,” said Dufner. “There’s a lot involved in playing the PGA Tour, more than anybody knows, and just getting comfortable with situations.”

Woods piped several drives and was able to work the ball both ways. On Friday, he pummeled a 361-yard tee shot at 10, his longest on Tour since 2014.

The 42-year-old Woods knows he will have to fire a good score Sunday to make a run at his 80th PGA Tour title. Woods nearly pulled it off in the final round here in 2012, coming from nine back to blaze a crowd-pleasing 62 and tied for second behind McIlroy.

“At least I gave myself a chance,” Woods said. “If I can post a number early, you never know.”

Woods tees off at 12:45 p.m. ET with Sam Burns.