Tiger Woods score: Hot start, pair of 66s makes 2018 PGA Championship win a real possibility
Big Cat put an electric current into the 2018 PGA Championship on Saturday afternoon
ST. LOUIS -- With the 2018 PGA Championship looking for an identity after an up-and-down first two days, Tiger Woods took the event with his taped-up, calloused hands and reoriented the entire thing to himself on Saturday afternoon in Round 3. Woods, who trailed leader Gary Woodland by six entering the third round, made four birdies on the front nine at Bellerive to go out in 31 and get within a few of the lead.
It led to outright pandemonium at an event where there seems to be double or triple the number of spectators there should be. Fans running in every direction, rattling their friends, spilling the foam off their beers, hoisting their phones to the sky in an attempt to record a sliver of history. And whether he goes on to win or not, it's certainly history.
Woods disappointingly closed his back nine with in 35 for a 4-under 66 overall. He sits at 8 under going into Sunday's final round, four back of leader Brooks Koepka with four golfers separating those two. But after the duct-tape job he did in Round 1 when he shot 70 and a grinding first 36 holes of him trying to hang on to something solid, it felt for once like he turned a 62 into a 66 and not the other way around.
Tiger found a rhythm on the back nine on Saturday with his irons and wedges that was mesmerizing. He eyeballed every shot, twirled every club (I mean every club) ... and did not make a single putt.
It had to be frustrating to find a tempo that seemed to get slower as the tournament got faster but to be stuck in neutral the entire way. He hit eight of nine (!) greens in regulation on the back, gave himself seven birdie putts of 21 or fewer feet and made none of them. It was almost impossible to do.
Woods missed birdie putts of the following distances on his back nine:
- 21 feet
- 15 feet
- 13 feet
- 8 feet
- 20 feet
- 4 feet
- 15 feet
"I left pretty much every single putt short on the back nine," said Woods. "The greens were getting fuzzy; they're getting slow, and I didn't hit the putts quite hard enough."
Still, the final nine holes, as Woods tried to feel his way toward the lead, felt like a wonderland. I've never covered a major where Tiger was in contention, and to enter into that furnace (at times, it literally felt like a furnace) adjacent to him was something I'm not sure I was fully prepared to see.
You could tell Tiger was feeling himself a little bit, too. He hit a stinging iron off the 11th tee that could have served as its own missile defense system and he borderline hop-skipped back over to his bag before it landed. With one arm propped up against his clubs and what felt like half of the city catching its breath after drinking in that trajectory, Woods opened up a slight smirk as if to say, Yo, still got it.
On the 12th tee, a kid -- maybe 14 years old -- literally passed out right as Tiger addressed his ball. An adult tried to pick the kid up and take him out of earshot from where players were teeing off, but Woods smoked a shot and the roar seemed to bring the kid back before anyone could process what had happened, and he ended up being OK.
Tiger Woods, reviver of wandering events.
"He looked like he was having fun," said playing partner Stewart Cink. "He played really well. I know he's a little frustrated on the back nine with not making a some of those putts, but made a few on the front nine, and it all evens out."
As for the closing act in this suddenly-astonishing, four-act play, Woods knows it might have to be an all-timer. Four strokes is a lot to make up, especially on a two-time major champ. Especially on a course that's playing so far under par. Not only does Woods have to run down Koepka, but he has to surpass Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Adam Scott and hold off Jason Day and Justin Thomas.
"Everyone's going to have to shoot low rounds," said Woods. "Its soft, it's gettable, and you can't just go out there and make a bunch of pars, you're going to have to make some birdies."
Woods has made 15 of them this week, one for every major championship he hopes to have late on Sunday at Bellerive. But after the first three rounds of this event and really the entire season Woods has strung together, it doesn't much matter if he gets it.
Would it engender all manner of histrionics and coverage for a sport sometimes bereft of it? Sure. Would it be maybe the sports story of the year? Absolutely, yes, it would be a big deal.
But to me, Woods as the context through which we view the rest of these events, both in the moment and historically, is the real win here. He brought life during a time of the year when most people who play, think about, cover and watch golf are on empty.
At times he looked and seemed and played younger than his age on a day when he had to play 29 holes in unbearable heat. There were glimpses down what has sometimes seemed like a limitless well.
I have to admit that I didn't see this coming with the way he faded last week at Firestone.
With a loaded leaderboard at Bellerive but no true soul through two rounds, Woods demanded that he be the prism through which we see everything else.
He was, he is, and he will be again on Sunday.
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