Tiger Woods’ electric Saturday puts PGA Championship within reach


 

ST. LOUIS – Ten hours and four minutes had passed since Tiger Woods hit his first golf shot of the day.

He’d give anything to have those last four minutes back. Those last 4 feet, too.

Leaderboards are hard to come by at Bellerive and Woods gets a visual on them every chance he has. He took a long look at the leaderboard off the 17th green while Stewart Cink was getting ready to hit his bunker shot. Then he stared down the 19-foot eagle putt that would have put him alone in second and potentially into Sunday’s final pairing with Brooks Koepka.

Woods missed the eagle try, which was fine. He’d played 26 holes and was about to pick up another stroke on the field. He was about to move to 9 under and the Wanamaker Trophy was still within reach.

Then he lipped out his 4-footer for birdie. A 302-yard drive and 241-foot approach, all for a three-putt par and an unfitting end to the most memorable day of this comeback.

“I left pretty much every single putt short on the back nine,” Woods said. “The greens were getting fuzzy, they’re getting slow, and I didn’t hit the putts quite hard enough. And I made sure on 17 I did, and I blew it by about four feet and then pulled the next one.”

Woods finished up on 18 with his 10th consecutive par for a 4-under 66 in Round 3, moving to 8 under for the tournament. He enters the final round four shots back of Koepka and tees off at 2:35 p.m. ET Sunday with Gary Woodland.

The major championship is still in sight and Woods is in the mix Sunday for the second major in a row. His ballstriking was more than strong enough to take the lead at some point this afternoon, but as soon as he sent the masses into a complete frenzy with his front-nine charge, the putter started letting him down.

It’s hard to pick the loudest moment because there were so many deafening roars. The PGA of America wouldn’t release attendance figures, but it was easily the most crowded major of the year and one of the most jam-packed days at any tournament.

Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy got the Woods experience in Rounds 1-2, the first time they’d ever seen something quite like this.

Stewart Cink has seen it before, and the 45-year-old vet reminded everyone that none of this is new. It’s just been a long time since we’ve seen it.

“It was like turning back the hands of the clock,” Cink said. “I didn’t really feel like there was a difference at all. It just felt like all that I remembered playing with Tiger all those years, you know, when he was winning tournaments. I played with him a lot on Sundays and weekends. Today was really no different.”

They were out in full force for the 7 a.m. ET Round 2 restart, and Woods showed up ready to go with a birdie on his first hole of the day dressed in all black.

That was just a warm-up for a chaotic afternoon that Woods started with a pair of birdies in a fresh, mint green shirt.

He was on his third shirt of the day by the par-3 sixth hole, this one navy blue, when he walked in an 11-footer for birdie. He was practically gliding toward the cup when another birdie putt dropped at seven, and he poured in another at eight.

He was just two shots off the lead and fans were already flooding to the ninth tee box at that point. They were joined by a swarm of media members who crowded the 10th fairway, dropping in on what suddenly had potential as the round of the tournament.

There were no more birdies from there, just a clutch 9-footer for par at 10 followed by a bunch of close misses on the greens.

That 4-foot miss stands out, but it shouldn’t overshadow one of the best ballstriking days Woods has had all year. He hit 10 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in Round 3, and he made only one bogey over his final 24 holes of the day.

He was working the ball all over the place, appearing in total control, or at least better control when it comes to the driver – Woods ranked 21st in strokes gained off the tee and sixth in strokes gained tee to green in Round 3.

He can win with this swing. But he downplayed the significance when asked about his tempo.

“I wasn’t stuck between clubs all day,” Woods said. “It was just one of those days where it’s like, OK, maybe it’s just a couple yards off an 8 (-iron), a couple yards off a 7, but it wasn’t like, is it one of these two clubs? I didn’t have any of those today. Consequently, I felt like I could free wheel it because I had good numbers all day.”

Let’s remember all the questions Woods faced on Tuesday, which seems like a long time ago. Was he hurt? Did he have enough time to get prepare for this tournament? Could he get his swing troubles straightened out after a disappointing week at Firestone?

Woods answered with back-to-back rounds of 66 and now we’re in for another electric final round.

When word of this newly-fused Woods started to spread back in December, it was impossible not to wonder about this. What would it look like if he actually got back into contention in the final round of a major? Could it get any better than that?

We know what it looks like now. We’re about to see it for the second time in just three weeks.

This is Woods’ 14th start of the season, and he’s entered the final round with a legit chance to win five of them. All anyone could ask for, given where he was at the start of it.

It’s just that something has always gotten in the way  – A 15-hole birdie-free stretch at the Valspar, a wayward drive on 16 at Bay Hill, a crazy-low round from Francesco Molinari at the Quicken Loans and a double bogey at No. 11 when he held the lead at Carnoustie.

Now for the latest question – can he get those 4-footers to drop when it matters most and finally finish the job?

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