May 12, 2018

Woods Climbs Into Contention in Round 3 of The Players

PONTE VEDRA, BEACH, Fla. – Finally getting the hot start he wanted, Tiger Woods birdied four of the first five holes Saturday and fired a 7-under-par 65 in the third round of the 45th Players Championship.

It was his lowest score of the year and best at the humid Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in 66 career starts. Woods last shot 65 at the 2015 Wyndham Championship, and it was lowest score to par since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

“Eventually I was going to put all the pieces together,” said Woods. “Today, for the most part, I did.”

He shared the low round Saturday with Jordan Spieth.

Taking advantage of the 90-degree temperatures and receptive greens, Woods fashioned eight birdies and one bogey. He recorded back-to-back birdies on three occasions.

Through 12 holes, Woods was 8-under. Webb Simpson equaled the course record with a 63 on Friday, and that seemed attainable for Woods.

“Realistically, I probably could have got a couple more out of it,” he  said.

For Woods, it truly was moving day. After making the cut on the nose and starting the round tied for 68th, he soared into a tie for ninth at 8-under 208.

Simpson extended his 36-hole advantage from five to seven shots with a sizzling 54-hole total of 19-under 197. Woods trails second place Danny Lee by four.

Following Friday’s round, Woods said he would need two rounds in the mid-60s to have chance of contending. While some may have been skeptical, the 79-time PGA Tour winner and two-time Players champion knew his game wasn’t far off.

An early starter with Mackenzie Hughes, Woods roped his opening drive, stuck his approach shot about 12 feet below the hole, and drained the birdie putt. He got up-and-down for another birdie at the par-5 second, and the enormous gallery – already 10-deep – was abuzz.

Using new TaylorMade irons for just the second tournament, Woods was dialed in. He carded consecutive birdies at the par-4 fifth and sixth, then added another at the par-4 seventh.

Woods capped his front nine with a two-putt birdie from the back fringe at the par-5 ninth, reaching the green in two with an iron. His 6-under 30 was his lowest-ever on the side and one off the course record.

The atmosphere was electric and the fans sensed they were seeing something special by the 42-year-old Woods, competing in the event for the first time since 2015. He added his seventh birdie of the day at the par-5 11th, then made a fabulous up-and-down for birdie at the drivable par-4 12th. At the latter, he drove pin-high right, about 40 yards from the pin, but displayed touch and imagination with a well-judged downhill pitch that stopped six feet past the hole.

Woods sustained his lone bogey of the round at the par-4 14th, where he has yet to find the fairway this week. After blocking his drive into the right rough, he slashed his second shot into the fairway, pitched to 23 feet and just missed his par-saving putt.

Woods hit another poor tee shot at the par-4 15th, catching the right fairway bunker, but hit a splendid recovery shot on the front of the green and nearly buried his long, uphill birdie putt.

Most players feast on the par-5 16th hole, reachable in two with a good drive. Woods split the middle of the fairway, but was caught between clubs for his second shot. He pulled a 4-iron from 225 yards into the front-left bunker, leaving a long explosion shot from a fluffy lie to the front pin. Woods executed perfectly, stopping the ball eight feet from the cup. The birdie putt looked true and dipped into the hole, but refused to fall.

“Unfortunately that putt just wiggled right at the very end,” he said. “Wish I would have gotten that one.”

Woods made a nice two-putt at the par-3 17th, where his tee shot left him a long, slick, downhill putt. He flushed a 2-iron down the fairway at the tough par-4 18th, looking for his first par of the week. Woods did just that, hitting a nice approach to the back fringe and easily two-putted for a par.

“Overall the whole day, I hit a lot of quality shots, and 65 was probably as high as I could have shot, which is kind of nice,” Woods said.

The statistics reinforced his fine play. Woods hit 11 of 14 fairways and missed only three greens.

“I just felt a lot more comfortable with it and consequently today I was able to shape the ball both ways and started to control it a little bit better,” Woods said.

His putting was much-improved, as Woods used only 27 for the round. He missed one putt inside 13 feet.

Aggressive on the greens from the start to finish, he made 64 feet of putts in the first seven holes. By contrast, Woods tallied 59 feet worth of putts for the entire round on Friday.

For example, at the 11th, he crushed a drive and found the green with a majestic 3-iron from 229 yards. Woods gave his eagle putt a bold run, scaring the cup but ran it six feet past. He didn’t blink, making the comebacker.

Hughes, playing with his golfing idol for the first time, held his own with a 68 and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

“I know it 90 degrees,” the 27-year-old Canadian said afterward. “But I can assure you, for me it was goosebumps and shivers out there hearing all the roars and you realize that you’re playing with Tiger Woods.”

It also gave Hughes new appreciation.

“The amount of yelling, all the comments,” he said. “I don’t know how he does it every day.”

On Sunday, Woods figures to attract another large following when he tees off in the fifth-to-last twosome with Spieth at 2:05 p.m. ET. Woods previously claimed titles in 2001 and 2013.

“I’ve got my playing feels back and it’s just a matter of playing and executing and putting the shots together,” said Woods.