The Palm Beach Post

Woods of old shows up to East Lake

Holds 54-hole edge for first time since last PGA win in ’13.

- By Steve Hummer Atlanta Journal-Constituti­on

ATLANTA — 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-year-old began writing his own myth, lapping the Masters field, winning by a dozen strokes.

It could be 2000, when that same bud- ding 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 certaint y 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 l i ke 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 fifirst tee box like Usain Bolt. How about six birdies on his fifirst seven holes? He really messed up on the par- 3 second, though, two putting for par from 45 feet.

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

He birdied employing the longish putt, fifinishin­g offff No. 1 with a 23-footer and No. 3 with a 21-footer. Woods fifinished the day best in the fifield 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, fifiring at the pin on No. 7 out of a fairway bunker 172 yards downrange, and sticking it to fifive feet.

He birdied by displaying the kind of control offff 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 offff 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 fifirst 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 efffffffff­fffect 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 flflashes 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.

“Simple math says that if I play a clean card, the guys behind me have to shoot 67 to force it into extra (holes),” Woods said. “That helps. I don’t have to shoot 63 or 64 and hope I get help. That’s a big diffffffff­fffference.”

There are a couple of notable players who will try to muddy the picture Sunday. His Saturday playing partner, Rose, remains in the best position to win the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus, even if he doesn’t overtake Woods to win the tourna- ment. Not that he is willing to just let the best story play through him.

“I’ve been saying for a while now, he’s playing easily well enough to win, and it’s just a matter of time,” said Rose, who got offff to a bogey-bogey start Saturday, but fought back to a 68.

Woods and Rose had been paired up three previous times this season, with the Engli shman winning the head-to-head each time. The script was well and truly flflipped Saturday.

It will be McIlroy’s turn to pair with Woods on the fifinal round, after he turned in a 66 on Saturday. This will be the fifirst time they have been paired in the fifinal round of a PGA Tour event.

“I t ’s go i ng t o b e f un, ” Woods said. “We haven’t d o n e t h a t mu c h o f l a t e because I’ve not been there.”

It goes without saying, but Woods went on to say it anyway: “I would love to be able to win this event.”

 ?? SAM GREENWOOD / GETTY IMAGES ?? Tiger Woods takes a three-shot lead into the fifinal round at East Lake today.
SAM GREENWOOD / GETTY IMAGES Tiger Woods takes a three-shot lead into the fifinal round at East Lake today.

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