Woods' late slip leaves the door ajar

 

Tiger Woods, the man who loves to lead and normally wins when he does, gave his pursuers hope with a late double bogey in the third round of the American Express World Championship in Atlanta last night.

In fact, the world number one did well not to triple bogey, holing an eight-foot putt after visiting two bunkers at the 486-yard 16th and finding himself plugged in the second of them.

Woods, defending the title he won at Mount Juliet in Ireland last year and going for an incredible eighth world title in 15 starts, had increased his lead to five with three birdies in his first seven holes at the Capital City Club Crabapple course.

He ended the day two in front of Fijian Vijay Singh, who burst into contention with an eight-birdie 64 spoilt by bogeys on the 14th and 18th.

Leading money-winner on the US Tour this year Singh missed a four-foot birdie putt on the short 13th then failed to hole a five-foot par putt at the next.

At the same time Woods chipped to 18 inches on the long 12th and followed with a 10-foot birdie putt to be three clear again.

But as Woods opened the door again Singh drove wildly right down the last, put his second into sand and failed to get up and down.

Woods, who has won on 19 of the 23 occasions he has held the halfway lead on the US Tour and 33 of the 37 times he has led with one round to play worldwide, finished with a 69 for an eight-under-par total of 202.

Singh is six under and lying third one further back is American Tim Herron. Spaniards Sergio Garcia and Ignacio Garrido are joint fifth after rounds of 69 and 70 respectively, Garcia's only birdie coming when he pitched to within inches of the flag on the second.

It was Woods' 31st successive round of par or better in World Golf Championship events, going right back to a one-over closing 71 at the 1999 NEC Invitational. A title he won, almost naturally.

England's Paul Casey moved into ninth place on level par with a 66, the second best round of the day.

"Did it rain last night?" asked Casey.

"It was suddenly playable. Still tough, but playable."

With an average score of 74 in the second round officials had taken the decision to water the rock-hard greens.

"It allowed us to be rewarded for good shots," added Casey. "It's amazing what a difference there was."

Padraig Harrington was going well too until three bogeys in his last five holes meant a 69 and three-over total, one ahead of Lee Westwood (71) and two in front of Ian Poulter, who shot 68.

Justin Rose matched Harrington's outward 33 - he was playing with the Dubliner and with World Cup partner Casey - but came home in 41 and dropped to eight over.

Colin Montgomerie had two double bogeys in his first three holes, but battled back for a level-par 70 and nine-over aggregate, the same as fellow Scot Alastair Forsyth and one better than David Howell.

Brian Davis' 68 gave him a six-over total, while Phillip Price dropped to 11 over with a 72 and Darren Clarke, shell-shocked by a second-round 82 that send him crashing from eighth to 60th in the 72-man field, finished 13 over after a 72 and Mark Foster 16 over following a 73.