Four guys tied for low round of the day. Unfortunately, for the rest of the field, one of them was Tiger Woods. Tiger reeled off a 6-under 66 like it was nobody’s business and went from a four-shot deficit from second round leaders, Justin Rose and Bill Haas, to a two-shot lead at 11-under.
It was vintage Tiger Woods with just one bogey against five birdies and an eagle at the 16th to hammer home his point: I’m here, I’m back and don’t even think about making a run on me because I’m going to do the same thing on Sunday. You’re wasting your time.
And as well as he’s controlling his ball these days, who would dare think he won’t. John Huh inched up the leaderboard with a 1-under, 71 and had his own tongue in cheek version of what would be required to catch Tiger:
You are going to be chasing Tiger tomorrow. You’ll probably be in the second to last group. You’re smiling. Are you excited about tomorrow?
Yes, I am. I really like where I’m at. It’s easier for me to chase him. I think it’s easier for me mentally, so I’m going to go have fun out there and play my game.
Do you have a number you feel you have to shoot tomorrow, maybe 67, 68?
I guess to shoot 59 (laughing). But it’s not an easy course like that, but I’ve got to try my best and see what happens.
Rickie Fowler will have a ringside seat for Sunday’s final round; he was the first one in the clubhouse to get to 9-under, so he’ll be paired with Tiger. But he has a chance, if not an edge, because it’s supposed to blow 25 to 35 mph with a rain, and he likes playing in the wind:
Yeah, with the way I’m striking the ball right now and looking forward to playing in the wind. Hopefully, it does blow tomorrow. It makes it tough for everyone, but I feel like that’s one of my favorite conditions to play in is the wind.
I played two years at Oklahoma State. Obviously, some wind there. Where I grew up in Southern California, it would always blow in the afternoon, so just keep swinging well and have some fun tomorrow.
And it’s one of his favorite conditions to play in:
I feel like I can use the wind as my friend, whether it’s cross winds or not. Even if you have to work it with the wind, you get a little extra out of it or hold it up into it, just makes it fun. It’s like having a little backboard on certain sides.
The other guy at 9-under was second-round leader, Justin Rose, who ended as he began, at, uh, 9-under. And it was the strangest of things that flattened his round to Even par after a 4-under start:
Yeah, obviously a great start, really. It was quite funny, actually, the energy disappeared big time. My legs went on me almost out there. I don’t know if it was fatigue or didn’t eat right or something, but I was struggling. My legs were going, and I made some loose swings coming down the stretch and really trying to hang on to that.
Things began to go awry at the 12th.
…From that point in the round I really struggled to get it into the house almost physically. I felt like I had a big energy loss out there. Struggled to get my legs under me coming in. But, yeah, tried to hang on as best I could and stay in the round and the lead.
And he had no idea what caused it. It wasn’t anything he ate:
I normally try to do the right thing; slept well, stayed hydrated. It was one of the hottest days we’ve played all year. I don’t know if I wasn’t quite used to that, maybe electrolytes, not getting enough of those down me. Who knows?
But the point is I tried to hang in there. Now I have to freshen up and come out tomorrow and feel good.
But he had a great philosophy to guide him through Sunday:
The back nine was a shame, but today means nothing really until tomorrow plays out, so hopefully he doesn’t go get hot tomorrow and then today’s just a memory.
As for Mr. Tiger Woods, well, the boys are on notice; Tiger likes the way he’s putting now:
I feel comfortable with the putts. I hit a lot of good ones today. They were starting out on my lines, and the two putts that I hit a couple days ago were just two blocks and no big deal. But, overall, I’m very pleased with the way I’ve been putting, and I’ve hit a lot of good putts especially into the grain.
You have to hit the putts flush and get them rolling, and I’ve been able to do that, even today when the wind started blowing. Obviously, tomorrow the forecast is it’s supposed to really blow.
And the other piece of bad news for the boys is that he understands his swing concept so well now, he can fix his swing on the fly. He doesn’t have to wait until after the round or the next morning:
I just understand how to fix my game. It’s taken me a while. As I said, I keep explaining to you guys, is that I was hurt for a long time. The changes to make the swing from where I was to now is a pretty big change.
I hit a bad shot here and there, and that’s easy to fix. I know what my fix is going to be and that makes a big difference.
Even more daunting is that he can fix his swing on the fly! He’s famous for being able to abort his backswing if something distracts him. But Saturday, the swing was well underway when he felt the club slip in his hands:
It was raining pretty hard at the time and my club got just a little bit wet, and in my transition I could feel it shift in my hand. So when it shifted in my hand, I knew it was going to be open, so I threw it at the bottom to make sure I didn’t sling it to the right and instead I slung it to the left.
And in order to be able to fix his swing in mid-round, it wasn’t just a matter of knowledge, it was a matter of sheer strength to be able to make the necessary moves:
Yeah, it’s taken me a little while. I think I had to get physically strong enough and physically healthy enough to do it. The changes I had to make, I had to be stronger, hence, I feel good; I feel explosive; consequently, my ball is traveling further than it ever has. I’m hitting the ball out there with some pretty good pop.
It was just a gradual progress. I’ve gotten better and better, and my short game has gotten better and better as well. I felt that I didn’t need to spend as much time hitting golf balls. I could work on my short game. Towards the end of last year, I started coming around, paid dividends at the beginning of this year and here we are.
And you think the guy isn’t disciplined? He did what he had to do in order to get through his physical rehab and he doesn’t have any more patience than the rest of us when it comes to doing the little stuff that are the prelude to getting to the big stuff:
I started feeling really strong. This year, it’s been nice not to have to rehab. I can actually train and make gains instead of just trying to patch things together and rehab things. So that’s been huge. Over the course of my career, when I’ve been able to do that is the time I’ve played my best.
It’s frustrating when you have to rehab and do all these little bitty BS exercises that are tedious, but in the end, allow you to get to a point where we can train.
And there was one last exchange that gave us a very interesting insight into what makes Tiger tick:
You’ve been through this 10,000 times, but what is it like for you the night before a final round when you know you have a chance to win the thing? Are you nervous? Do you sleep well? Any sort of quirks, things that you do?
Well, you guys know I don’t sleep much, so it’s not that. I’m excited about tomorrow. More than anything, I’m curious to see if we get any rain and what the conditions are going to be tomorrow, and I’ll play it from there.
And there is one last incentive for Tiger on Sunday: if he wins, believe it or not for as far as his star had fallen, he will return to World No. 1:
Yeah, it sort of was one of my goals to get back to that position after being out of the top 50 there for a while, being hurt, and having all my points come off where I couldn’t play. That was not a fun stretch, but I had to get healthy in order to compete, and so far I’ve had five wins on our Tour in the last couple years. So I’m heading in the right direction.
Heading in the right direction? That’s a gracious understatement.
Sunday would have been interesting enough just with all of these player dynamics. Throw in big, heavy Florida winds and we have ourselves a real show.