Tiger Woods returning to ruthless self at Honda Classic

Rory McIlroy had a very eventful day which included an interesting brush with a tree

Rory McIlroy attempts to play a shot from the trees while on his knees on the sixth hole at the Honda Classic. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy attempts to play a shot from the trees while on his knees on the sixth hole at the Honda Classic. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images

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Softly, softly the progress is being made.

There have been many Tiger Woods comebacks but there is no doubt that the current one looks by far the most promising. This one feels different. It’s slower and expectations are tempered. This is a Woods who plays practice rounds with fellow players, smiles and jokes and doesn’t say things like how he’s at a tournament for nothing less than a win.

Until now.

After Friday’s 71 which left him four shots off the lead going into the weekend Woods began to change his tune. The gameface was back and the glint was in the eyes.

“I feel like I’m right there. I’m right where I can win a golf tournament. Four back on this golf course with 36 holes to go? Anybody can win this golf tournament right now. It’s wide open,” Woods said.

On Saturday he backed up those words and could well have been right in the mix going into Sunday had it not been for a couple of putts refusing to drop and the dreaded Bear Trap – the 15th, 16th and 17th holes at PGA National – again causing him problems.

Despite that, this was Woods’ most impressive round since returning to competitive golf in the Bahamas last December and some of the most promising golf seen since his last win five years ago at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.

And he was typically bullish after the round, already plotting how he could make a charge and possibly win for the first time at the Jack Nicklaus-designed course.

“You never know what can happen on the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past. First of all, I need to go and post a number. I’m going to be far enough ahead of the leaders, probably 45 minutes or an hour; if I can go ahead and post a number early, you never know. I’ve got a shot. My job is to go out and post a number.”

On another tough day at the brutally difficult in Palm Beach Gardens, Woods looked very much in control as he shot a third round 69, one under par, to go into Sunday on level par and seven off the lead held by Luke List with Webb Simpson and Justin Thomas the nearest challengers at six under.

In the Bahamas, at Torrey Pines and last week at Riviera the driver had been the problem for Woods with many of his tee shots flying off the charts. Not so on Saturday in Florida. Woods hit nine out of 14 fairways.

Woods reads a putt on the third green on the way to a round of 69. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Woods reads a putt on the third green on the way to a round of 69. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Last week the 79-time PGA Tour winner spoke of how he “built his career on being pin high” but couldn’t get his distances dialled in for his approach shots. On Saturday he hit 14 greens in regulation and was consistently in line with the flag.

It was no surprise that after the round Woods described his 69 as “probably the highest score I could have shot today.”

Despite a number of chances for birdie in his opening seven consecutive pars, Woods didn’t pick up a shot until the eighth and will rue not making the most of at least one of four approaches within 20 feet at the ninth, 10th and 11th. However, the putter did get going at the 12th when, after finding a fairway bunker with his drive and splashing out to 100 yards short of the green, he fired his third shot in to 16 feet and sunk the putt for a fist-pumping par save.

That gave him the momentum to birdie the 13th after yet another perfectly judged wedge shot into the green. However, the Par 3 15th – which Woods double bogeyed on Friday – again proved to be his nemises after hooking his tee shot way left and leaving a virtually impossible up-and-down over the greenside bunker. A bogey there and another bogey at the Par 3 17th due to a very similar hook off the tee stunted Woods’ progress up the leaderboard. However, he at least salvaged one of the dropped shots at the final hole after a sublime bump-and-run from just off the green at the Par 5 left a tap in birdie.

Woods looked in control during an impressive third round. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Woods looked in control during an impressive third round. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

For Rory McIlroy it was an adventurous and altogether very disappointing Saturday as he played himself right out of contention with a nightmare front nine. Starting the day at four over par the former Honda Classic champion knew he needed to go low but any chances of that were dead in the water after he went bogey, bogey, double bogey, bogey, bogey from the fourth to the eighth which included a close shave with a dip in the alligator-infested waters and a Seve-like brush with a tree.

McIlroy’s tee shot at the Par 3 fifth barely cleared the water, leaving him standing precariously on the rocks to play his chip shot. After jabbing it 30 feet past he almost lost his balance and fell back into the lake but managed to save himself.

But the drama wasn’t over.

Two holes later his approach flew the green at the Par 4 sixth, scuttling right in underneath a tree. From there McIlroy got down on his knees and attempted to poke a shot out but couldn’t channel his inner-Ballesteros, eventually winding up with a double bogey six. While he did restore some respectability with four birdies in his last 10 holes to sign for a round of 73 and a total of seven over par, there still looks to be plenty for the four-time major winner to work on if his game is going to be in peak shape heading into Augusta.

In his first eight holes McIlroy had four approach shots from inside 120 yards and missed the green altogether with three of them. At the second he found the bunker left, at the fourth he overshot the green, at the eighth he found the bunker on the right and at the third – the only putting surface he managed to find in those four approach shots – he was left with 40 feet for birdie.

At the ninth he did eventually manage to dial in his distances to record a first birdie of the day and followed it up with three more at the 10th, 14th and 17th. But there’s no doubt there’s still work to be done despite his long off-season layoff and some good form in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

It wasn’t much better for Shane Lowry who managed just one birdie in his round of 75 which also included four bogeys and a double to leave him at 10 over par and in a tie for last place.

Collated third round scores & totals in the USPGA Tour The Honda Classic, PGA National (Champion), Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, United States of America (US unless stated, Irish in bold, Par 70)

203 Luke List 71 66 66

204 Justin Thomas 67 72 65, Webb Simpson 66 72 66

205 Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 70 68 67, Jamie Lovemark 68 69 68

206 Alex Noren (Swe) 66 75 65

207 Kelly Kraft 72 69 66

208 Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 67 72 69

209 Daniel Berger 67 72 70, Rory Sabbatini (Rsa) 69 69 71

210 Tiger Woods 70 71 69, Hudson Swafford 73 69 68, Sam Burns70 71 69, Dylan Frittelli (Rsa) 71 72 67, Thomas Pieters (Bel) 69 70 71

211 Adam Schenk 69 71 71, Ben Martin 70 71 70, Jason Dufner69 72 70, Byeong-Hun An (Kor) 70 72 69, Scott Piercy70 70 71

212 Peter Malnati 71 71 70, Adam Scott (Aus) 73 72 67, Harris English71 74 67, Emiliano Grillo (Arg) 71 72 69, Tom Lovelady75 70 67, Jim Furyk72 70 70, Russell Henley68 70 74, John Huh71 73 68, Patrick Rodgers72 71 69, Dominic Bozzelli68 73 71

213 Keegan Bradley 69 72 72, Scott Stallings 73 70 70, Gary Woodland73 68 72, Cheng-Tsung Pan (Tai) 71 71 71, Stewart Cink70 71 72, Brian Harman74 70 69, Ryan Moore70 73 70

214 Nick Watney 71 71 72, Chris Stroud 69 73 72, Sergio Garcia (Spa) 72 70 72, Roberto Diaz (Mex) 71 73 70, Aaron Wise76 69 69, Morgan Hoffmann67 73 74, Matt Every73 69 72, Tyler Duncan70 74 70

215 Scott Brown 72 70 73, Greg Chalmers (Aus) 74 71 70, Alex Cejka (Ger) 74 70 71, Michael Thompson76 69 70, Ben Crane68 75 72, Troy Merritt71 74 70, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa) 70 72 73, Anirban Lahiri (Ind) 73 71 71

216 Lucas Glover 70 75 71, William McGirt 71 71 74, Derek Fathauer73 72 71, J.B. Holmes69 76 71, Mackenzie Hughes (Ca) 67 75 74, Michael Kim71 74 71, Camilo Villegas (Co) 76 67 73, Jhonattan Vegas (Ven) 74 68 74, Corey Conners (Can) 70 72 74

217 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha) 71 72 74, Rory McIlroy (Nirl) 72 72 73, Chris Kirk71 74 72

218 Joel Dahmen 74 71 73, Vaughn Taylor 73 71 74, Jimmy Walker76 68 74, Tyrone Van Aswegen (Rsa) 72 73 73, Andrew Novak75 70 73

219 Martin Flores 73 70 76, Harold Varner III 70 74 75

220 Ollie Schniederjans 72 73 75, Shane Lowry (Ire) 71 74 75, Martin Piller69 76 75, Jonathan Randolph72 71 77

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