Woods continued to display the controlled ball-striking that he has all week at a breezy PGA National, hitting a season-best nine fairways and 13 greens in Saturday’s 1-under 69. He’s even-par through three rounds, close enough that the leaders may have to keep one eye on him in the final round.
“I’ve got a shot,” he said.
It was six years ago that Woods, looking for his first victory in three years, shot a final-round 62 here to nearly chase down Rory McIlroy. Now it’s been five years since his most recent win.
Even if it doesn’t come this week, Woods has proven that he’s capable of winning in 2018.
He ranks second this week in proximity to the hole and 13th in both Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green and Strokes Gained: Putting. On Saturday, he hit 10 of his first 11 approach shots within 25 feet of the hole. He only converted one for birdie, though.
“It probably was the highest I could have shot today,” he said after his three-birdie round.
Woods made a 6-foot birdie putt on the eighth hole to pull within three shots of the lead. His putter, and PGA National’s bumpy greens, kept him from getting any closer. He missed birdie putts of 14, 16 and 11 feet on the next three holes before burying a 17-footer for par after driving into a fairway bunker.
He missed another 15-footer for birdie on 13 before once again struggling on the back-nine’s water-lined par-3s.
One day after blocking it into the water at No. 15, he pulled his tee shot onto the grassy downslope left of the bunker. His flop shot stayed in the rough, inches from rolling close to the hole.
He yanked his tee shot left of the greenside bunker on 17, as well. This flop shot found the green, but he missed the lengthy par putt. Those were his only two bogeys Saturday.
Woods birdied the last hole after nearly chipping in for eagle. It’s his first round in the 60s in an official PGA TOUR event since a third-round 68 in the 2015 Wyndham Championship.
Jason Dufner, who played alongside Woods, said his play resembled what he’d seen in casual rounds before Woods’ return at Torrey Pines.
“The stuff I saw at home was a little bit better than what I saw in San Diego and L.A., but I think he’s starting to get the wheels going a little bit and figuring out how to play golf again,” Dufner said. “There’s a lot involved in playing the PGA TOUR, more than anybody knows, and just getting comfortable with situations.
“I don’t think he’s that far away. It’s probably not going to take him that long if he’s healthy. He’s a smart guy. He’ll figure out what it takes to play good golf out here.”
Woods is closer to the lead than he was six years earlier, when he shot the low final round of his PGA TOUR career. He was nine shot off the lead back then. An eagle at 18 left him two shots behind McIlroy.
Woods said he doesn’t see a similar score this year. The low score thus far has been a 65 shot Saturday by Alex Noren and Justin Thomas. A victory is still within reach, though.