Woods’ play through three rounds – he is at 18-under-par 198 and has struck for a personal-best 24 birdies through 54 holes – is why new owner Donald Trump has instructed golf course architect Gil Hanse to start a redesign as soon as this World Golf Championships event ends.
Woods shot 5-under 67 in Saturday’s third round to build a four-shot lead in his bid for his 76th career PGA Tour victory. He opened with rounds of 66-65.
Woods has won 50 of the 54 times he has been the leader or co-leader after 54 holes, and his game has showed few weaknesses this week. In addition to his 24 birdies, he has just six bogeys. One came Saturday when his tee shot on the 17th shot stayed in a palm tree and he had to take an unplayable lie.
“It’s been a weird couple of weeks; I had two lost balls last week (at the Honda Classic) and I had one stuck up in a tree (Saturday),” Woods said. “But I’m pleased with how clean the cards have been this week.”
Asked when he last played this well, Woods pointed to his victory at Torrey Pines, where he finished at 14-under 274 and won by four.
“Wasn’t that long ago,” he said.
Woods is trying to end a drought in World Golf Championships events. He has 16 wins but hasn’t won one since 2009.
Woods, who pulled out of this tournament in the final round last year because of a mildly strained left Achilles tendon, is being chased by Graeme McDowell. The former U.S. Open champion is in second place after 69 that featured eagles on the first and 16th holes. He will be paired in the final group with Woods.
“Tiger played phenomenal today; he was a tough guy to hang onto,” McDowell said. “I’m just glad I managed to steady the ship and have half a chance tomorrow.”
Phil Mickelson, who was hoping to play well enough to make it into today’s final pairing with Woods, threw away shots early in the round and ended up with 69. He’s tied for third place with Steve Stricker (69), five behind Woods. Mickelson and Stricker will be paired together for the fourth consecutive round.
“This might be a blessing,” Mickelson said of being in the second-to-last group. “There have been so many times, especially here at Doral, where the winner has come from the group one or two ahead of the leaders. If we can get off to a hot start, it’s tough to follow suit. It’s tough when you have to make birdies. It’s not as hard to make them first. If we can get hot, you never know.”
The winds are supposed to blow to 13 mph Sunday, which will make club selection more difficult and limit the number of birdies.
“Tough conditions tomorrow gives the rest of the field a chance,” McDowell said.
“Well, I’ve won a few tournaments in the wind,” Woods said. “I think that if you’re coming from behind, it’s always nice to have tougher conditions. But also when you’ve got a nice lead, too, it’s nice to have tougher conditions and you can make a bunch of pars.”