TIGER HOLDS LEAD AF­TER THREE ROUNDS AT TOUR CHAM­PI­ONSHIP

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - SPORT SUNDAY - By Steve Hum­mer shum­mer@ajc.com

What year is this, any­way? Who threw the cal­en­dar into re­verse? And how can the rest of us get on that ride?

For the first hand­ful of holes at the Tour Cham­pi­onship on Satur­day, it was be­gin­ning to look just a lit­tle like 1997, when a 21-yearold be­gan writ­ing his own myth, lap­ping the Mas­ters field, win­ning by a dozen strokes.

It could be 2000, when that same bud­ding phe­nom­e­non won a U.S. Open by 15 shots.

Or 2001, when he fin­ished off a per­sonal Grand Slam by mak­ing the Mas­ters his fourth con­sec­u­tive ma­jor vic­tory. Or 2006, when he set a PGA Cham­pi­onship record with only three bo­geys in four days. Or 2007, when he was a one-man wild­fire scorch­ing East Lake, shoot­ing 23 un­der for four days and win­ning the Tour Cham­pi­onship by eight shots.

Cer­tainly not 2018, which Tiger Woods en­tered with a med­i­cal file as thick as a 28-ounce porter­house and the per­sonal life that once made him must read­ing in the gro­cery check-out line for months.

Yet it can be re­ported with rea­son­able cer­tainty that Woods in­deed was the one at East Lake shoot­ing the day’s low round of 65 on Satur­day, bor­row­ing just a bit from all those past days of com­pet­i­tive tyranny and grab­bing this Tour Cham­pi­onship by the seat of its sharply pleated pants. At 12 un­der, he’ll re­port to Sun­day with a three-shot lead over the Euro­pean tag team of Rory McIl­roy and Justin Rose.

Over the front nine Satur­day, this wasn’t so much a round of golf as it was a re­vival. It was the launch party for the next in­stall­ment of the Woods saga, the one where he rises from spinal-fu­sion surgery and the very real thought that he never would play again, only to make the rest of these pros at times look like they’re play­ing cro­quet.

Woods was wear­ing his throw­back game Satur­day, look­ing to all the world like the young, vin­tage Woods who used to turn tour­na­ments into his own per­sonal aria. The only thing that gave him away was when he lifted his cap to mop his brow and re­vealed the thin­ning lawn up top.

Woods made no se­cret of his in­tent to hi­jack the third round. He came off the first tee box like Usain Bolt. How about six birdies on his first seven holes? He re­ally messed up on the par-3 sec­ond, though, two putting for par from 45 feet.

“Yeah, I got off to a nice start there,” he dead­panned.

He birdied em­ploy­ing the longish putt, fin­ish­ing off No. 1 with a 23-footer and No. 3 with a 21-footer. Woods fin­ished the day best in the field in strokes gained putting.

“I’ve been hit­ting the ball pretty well, and I’ve been streaky with my put­ter,” he said in a syn­op­sis of his year. “I’ve had hot stretches, but I haven’t been con­sis­tent day in and day out. This week I have been con­sis­tent.”

He birdied by turn­ing iron into gold, fir­ing at the pin on No. 7 out of a fair­way bunker 172 yards down­range, and stick­ing it to five feet.

He birdied by dis­play­ing

the kind of con­trol off the tee that has of­ten aban­doned him in this come­back (10 of 14 fair­ways hit, third in the field in strokes gained off the tee).

And then he bo­geyed the par-3 ninth, un­able to get up and down from well off the green, if only to give what was hap­pen­ing a hint of hu­man­ity.

Af­ter a front-nine 30, he re­treated a bit. In fact, fol­low­ing the six-birdie light show, Woods was over par his last 11 holes.

But be­fore he re­tired, he did want to hit one last drive 349 yards — on the down­hill 18th — just to show that the old back still had some pop to it. The hole that had treated him so well the first two days let him down, though, when he dumped his sec­ond shot into a green­side bunker and could not get up and down for a clos­ing birdie.

The over­all ef­fect was to put Woods in a po­si­tion he hasn’t been in since his last PGA Tour vic­tory in 2013 — hold­ing a 54-hole lead. Un­like other flashes this year that put him mo­men­tar­ily in con­tention, he now is the clear front-run­ner late in the go­ing. He has a life­time record of 53-4 when hold­ing at least a share of the 54-hole lead.

SAM GREEN­WOOD / GETTY IMAGES

Tiger Woods ac­knowl­edges the crowd on the first green Satur­day. He takes a three-shot lead into the fi­nal round at East Lake to­day.

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