Tiger Woods builds four-shot lead in California
The fog lifted and revealed a familiar sight: Tiger Woods in command at Torrey Pines, California.
Despite finishing with a bogey on the easiest hole of the back nine, Woods began to pull away from the field with a 3-under 69 in the third round to build a four-shot lead in the Farmers Insurance Open. Woods has only lost twice on the PGA Tour in 40 previous times that he has held the outright lead through 54 holes.
Because fog wiped out all of Saturday (Sunday, NZ time), players were going as long as daylight allowed before returning Monday (Tuesday, NZ time) to complete the tournament. Woods, who was at 14-under 202, was likely to get in about six holes before darkness, and he didn't bother switching to a red shirt for the start of the final round.
Brad Fritsch, a PGA Tour rookie from Canada, had a 70 and was at 206. Erik Compton finished birdie-eagle for a 71 and was alone in third, five shots behind.
Asked about trying to chase Woods, Compton started laughing.
"I'm trying to chase myself," he said.
Woods has won seven times at Torrey Pines as a pro, including a US Open, and another win tomorrow would give him the most wins on any course.
The tournament staff followed the final group along the back nine, ready to change the hole locations to get ready for the final round. Players had about 30 minutes to get something to eat and hit a few balls before going right back out.
Woods had superb control of his tee shots and was rarely out of position on a day that began under a light drizzle and soon gave way to patchy clouds and clear views of the Pacific surf below the bluffs.
Starting with a two-shot lead, he stretched that quickly with a tap-in birdie on the second hole and a beautiful tee shot to a left pin on the downhill par 3 to about 4 feet. The South Course played even longer with the soft conditions, and only seven players broke 70. Aaron Baddeley had the lowest score of the round with a 68.
Woods managed to stretch his lead with pars, though he was always on the attack because of his position in the fairway.
He missed a downhill birdie putt from 4 feet on the par-5 ninth, and then came back with a wedge that landed near the hole at No. 10 and spun back next to the cup before it settled 4 feet away for a birdie putt that he made.
He led by as many as six strokes until Fritsch birdied the last hole and Woods, playing in the group behind, ran into trouble. His tee shot rolled up near the lip of the bunker, and he advanced it 70 yards into deep rough. He swung hard through the thick, wet grass into a greenside bunker, and then missed his 8-foot par putt.
Still, it was an ominous sign.
One week after he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi - thanks to a two-shot penalty he received after his ground for taking relief from an embedded lie on the fifth hole when the rules didn't allow for it - he looked good as ever.
Woods has a 49-4 record on the PGA Tour when he has at least a share of the 54-hole lead, and it's even more daunting when the lead is his alone. The only two players to come from behind to beat him over the final 18 holes were Ed Fiori in the Quad City Classic in 1996 when Woods was a 20-year-old rookie, and Y.E. Yang in the 2009 PGA Championship a Hazeltine.
In worldwide events, Thomas Bjorn (Dubai), Lee Westwood (Germany) and Graeme McDowell (Target World Challenge) have made up deficits against him on the last day.
"I played well. I played really, really well," Woods said after his third round. "It seemed like I was always in pretty good position."
He was in the rough off the tee only five times in the third round, though always at the right angle to approach the green. On his only other bogey, he missed the green by about a foot and his chip came out hot and ran some 7 feet by the hole.
Because of the quick turnaround, Fritsch didn't play in the final group with Woods despite being the closest player to him. He still felt the energy playing in the group ahead, with a large gallery lining both sides of the fairways.
"I've never played in this atmosphere before, especially in front of Tiger," Fritsch said. "So I think I handled it well. It was fun, and I've got to do it over again."
Fritsch chipped in for birdie on the par-5 ninth, but then missed the green at No. 10 and the fairway at No. 12, both leading to bogeys. He made pars the rest of the way until a closing birdie.
Compton had the best finish, with some theatrics to go along with it.
His 20-foot birdie putt on the 17th hung on the lip of the cup as the gallery groaned. Compton pointed at the ball just as gravity took over and the ball disappeared, and he slammed down his fist as the crowd erupted with cheers. Then, he hit 2-iron from 240 yards into the middle of the green, and his eagle putt banged into the back of the cup and dropped down to put him in third place.
"It was one of the coolest moments I've ever seen for me as a professional," Compton said. "That was kind of neat. Tiger's behind me, I'm trying to fight back, and it was on the lip. Stayed there for a minute and then just the crowd's reaction, my reaction ... I don't even know what I did. But it was great."
The day wasn't so great for Billy Horschel, who started the third round two shots out of the lead and had to birdie the last hole to salvage a 76. He fell nine shots behind.