LA JOLLA, Calif. - Tiger Woods has some work to do today in the Buick Invitational if he expects to extend his PGA Tour winning streak to seven tournaments.
But not much, which is bad news for the three players ahead of him.
Woods, who is seeking to win this tournament for the third time in a row and the fifth time in his career, birdied three of his first seven holes, then made 11 consecutive pars Saturday for 3-under-par 69 at Torrey Pines' South Course.
That was good enough to vault the world's No. 1-ranked player, who was seven shots off the pace and in 11th place after 36 holes, into a tie for fourth place at the 54-hole mark.
He's two shots off the lead of Andrew Buckle (68 on Saturday) and Brandt Snedeker (74), who are at 11-under 205.
Kevin Sutherland (70) is in third place at 10 under, followed at 9 under by Woods, Augusta native Charles Howell (73), former Georgia Tech star Troy Matteson (69) and Bill Haas (72).
This is the first start of the season for Woods, who was last seen in a PGA Tour event Oct. 1 at the WGC American Express Championship, which he won by eight shots.
"It's nice to be in contention the first week out," Woods said. "That's why I prepared as hard as I did, to put myself in this spot and hopefully tomorrow I can stay out of the bunkers a little bit and make a few putts."
Woods had just one of two bogey-free rounds Saturday on the South Course, the site of the 2008 U.S. Open.
"To stay bogey-free again would be nice," Woods said.
Sutherland's birdie on the 18th hole moved him into today's final threesome with Buckle and Snedeker. Had he parred the hole, Woods would have been in the final threesome.
"I need to send him (Sutherland) a thank-you note; that was very nice of him," Snedeker said. "No matter what anybody says, I would love to play in the last group with Tiger. I think that's where everybody wants to be. But as a rookie, I'm kind of glad how it worked out. I like it a lot."
Woods is in the next-to-last group, with Howell and Matteson.
Howell was tied for the lead after eight holes, but played 2 over the rest of the way for his 73. He missed putts of 4 feet or shorter on Nos. 11 and 17 to drop out of the lead pack and come in at 9 under.
"I really wanted to finish at 10- or 11-under because Tiger was already in at 9," said Howell. "Any time you can separate yourself from him, it makes a difference."
Howell - who finished runner-up to Woods at Torrey Pines two years ago - has been paired before with Woods, but never on a tournament Sunday.
"Truthfully, Tiger is your favorite," Howell said. "He's your leader. History shows when he's in this position he gets it done. So I get to keep an eye on the guy who is favored to win the golf tournament. That's good."
Like Snedeker, Buckle is a tour rookie. The former Nationwide Tour buddies have no tour victories compared with 54 for Woods, who said after his round that he had never heard of Buckle, a 24-year-old Australian. Sutherland, 42, has one victory in 12-plus years on the tour.
In his first PGA Tour start of the season, Woods has shown plenty of firepower with 10 birdies and two eagles, but has made some uncharacteristic mistakes. The biggest one Saturday was missing a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 18 that would have put him in today's final group.
Woods and Ben Hogan (1948) are tied for second place on the consecutive victory list at six. Woods also won six in a row from late 1999 to 2000, only to see the streak end here at Torrey Pines. The all-time record for consecutive victories is 11, by Byron Nelson in 1945.
Aiken native and tour rookie Matt Hendrix, who played his first three rounds with defending Masters Tournament champion Phil Mickelson, had 74 on Saturday and is tied for 50th place. Hendrix opened with 70-70 in his first event as a tour member.
Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224 or email@example.com.