March 10, 2018

Woods Shoots His Season-Best Heading Into Sunday’s Final Round

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – When Tiger Woods embarked on his PGA Tour comeback in January at the Farmers Insurance Open, his goal was play his way back into contention.

Things have changed.

After shooting a season-best 4-under-par 67 on Saturday at the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort, Woods is tied for second place with Justin Rose and Brandt Snedeker at 8-under 205, one stroke off the lead set by 26-year-old rookie Corey Conners of Canada heading into Sunday’s final round.

It was Woods’ fifth consecutive round of par or better, his longest streak since 2013. That last time he opened with three sub-par scores was at the 2015 Wyndham Championship, when he tied for 10th.

And it has made him reassess.

“I put myself right up there,” said the 42-year-old Woods. “I’ll be excited and ready to play Sunday.”

It marks the 70th time in his PGA Tour career he has led or been within a shot of first place after 54 holes. He’s prevailed on 62 of 69 occasions, a winning percentage of 89.9.

“I know what it’s like to be one back,” said Woods, who will be chasing his 80th career victory.

Few could have predicted he would be in this position in only his fourth start of 2018 and fifth in two years. After undergoing back fusion surgery last April, his fourth procedure since 2015, many – Woods included – were uncertain if he would contend again.

Woods listened to his surgeons and trainers, exhibited amazing patience, and began another slow and arduous rehabilitation process. He stuck to the plan, never rushed, and started hitting wedges five months ago.

Now, remarkably, Woods has given himself a chance to win for the second straight tournament. He is competing in the event for the first time.

Woods’ last triumph came at the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club.

“I’m starting to see him get in a pretty good groove out there,” said caddie Joe LaCava, who has been on his bag since 2011. “He’s trying to hit shots, and he’s pulling them off.”

Despite chilly conditions, the atmosphere was electric on Saturday at the challenging Copperhead Course. Paired with Snedeker, Woods poured in a 20-foot birdie putt at the par-4 third hole – his longest sink of the week – and it ignited the record crowd.

Woods added another at the par-5 fifth, where he busted a 321-yard drive, knocked his second shot long and chipped close to set up an easy birdie.

Trailing Conners by a shot, Woods parred the next three holes, then brought down the house with a chip-in birdie at the par-4 ninth. That tied Conners at 1-under, Woods turning in 3-under 33.

“We were semi-joking that I’ve hit so many good chips,” he said of LaCava. “I finally holed one.”

Woods drained a 22-foot birdie putt at the par-4 10th to keep pace with Conners. He gave himself good looks at 11 and 12 inside 10 feet, but couldn’t convert. Woods dropped a shot at the par-3 13th, only his second bogey in two days, and wasn’t happy walking to the 14th tee.

He took out his frustration by crushing another drive at the 590-yard par-5, posting a swing speed of 129-miles-per-hour, the fastest recorded on the PGA Tour this season. Woods reached the green in two with an iron and nearly dunked his eagle attempt, settling for a birdie.

He closed with four stress-free pars.

On target most of the day, Woods hit eight of 13 fairways and 14 of 18 greens and finished with 28 putts.

On Sunday, he will play in the penultimate pairing with Snedeker for the second day in a row. They tee off at 1:45 p.m. ET, followed by Conners and Rose at 1:55 p.m.

If the loud atmosphere is anything like Saturday, it should be exciting.

“The environment was incredible,” said Woods. “The people were into it. I played well, Sneds played well, and the people, I think they got entertained.”

Snedeker can’t wait.

“It was great,” he said. “I can confirm he’s back, the roars are back. It’s fun to hear the crowd going crazy again and realize how excited we are having him back out there and playing the way he is. It will probably be crazier tomorrow.”