Tiger Woods barely made the cut on Friday afternoon as a handful of golfers slid from 2 under back to 1 under, but he made the most of that opportunity on Saturday as he scared the course record at TPC Sawgrass in the third round of the 2018 Players Championship. Woods eventually settled for a 7-under 65, but it looked for a while like it was going to be so much better than that.
Woods birdied eight of his first 12 holes and needed just 15 putts to do it. He opened with a 15-foot birdie putt and had birdie looks from inside 20 feet on 12 of his first 13 holes. You could give me a putter and 12 looks inside 20 feet, and I'd be under par. So when a putter as good as Tiger gives himself those chances, it's easy to see how he cruised into the final five holes of the day.
That's when it started to go a little crooked, though. Woods hit bad drives at both No. 14 and No. 15 and played them in 1 over to drop back a bit. He parred the final three holes for as disappointing a 65 as he's probably ever shot, given the start he got off to.
Big Cat shot up into the top 10 on the leaderboard at the time he finished and gained six strokes on the field. That's really strong, but it's not an all-time elite round. What it tells me is that while Woods is sitting pretty as the leaders sit down for breakfast, the course is playing fairly easy for a Saturday. His 8-under total might not look as slick at 7 p.m. on Saturday as it does right now.
But boy, does it look great right now. Woods' 30 on the front nine was his best-ever score on the front nine at TPC Sawgrass, and it was his best nine-hole score since his injury-riddled body started falling apart a half decade ago. The 65 overall was also Woods' best score on this course (where he's won twice). He had previously shot 66 (twice). It's also his best round this year by three strokes.
"Sixty five was probably as high as I could have shot today, which was nice," Woods said. "I wish I could repeat (the score) more often, but it was just a better start. I got off to a much better quality start. Eventually, I'll put all of the pieces together, and today for the most part I did that. I hit a lot of good, quality shots."
Tiger Woods: 30 (-6) on front nine today; his lowest 9-hole score since the 2nd round of the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone (Woods' last win)— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) May 12, 2018
So welcome to the 2018 Players Championship. Tiger Woods is officially in the mix, even though he was still seven back of Webb Simpson (-15) at the time he finished. The golfers in second place are only at 10 under, two ahead of Woods, and if Simpson stumbles at all, Sunday could provide a hell of an afternoon.
For the sake of context, this would be the most historic win in Players Championship history and maybe one of the most historic in non-major championship history. The biggest 36-hole deficit ever overcome was seven strokes by Tim Clark in 2010. Woods was down 14 (!) after two rounds this year. Still, Woods has at least given himself a chance to get going into Round 4. Sometimes with him, that's all that matters.