Tiger gets in position for full closer mode

McClatchy news servicesMarch 10, 2013 

Tiger Woods hit a tee shot that got stuck in a palm tree. That’s about the only thing that didn’t fall his way Saturday at the Cadillac Championship in Miami.

Woods made seven more birdies on the Blue Monster at Doral, the last one from 15 feet on the 18th hole that gave him a 5-under 67 and a four-shot lead over Graeme McDowell heading into the final round.

Woods has made 24 birdies and taken only 74 putts through three rounds, both personal bests in his PGA Tour career.

It put him in great position to win his 17th career World Golf Championship, and his first since 2009. He has a 39-2 record when he has the outright lead going into the final round on the PGA Tour.

McDowell was six shots out of the lead with three holes to play when he tried to keep it close. His drive on the 16th finished just over the green, and he chipped in for eagle.

He picked up another shot on the 17th when Woods’ tee shot embedded high into the trunk of a palm tree. Once his ball was identified, he took a penalty drop and made bogey.

The lead was down to three shots, but not for long.

Woods holed his birdie putt to reach 18-under 198, and McDowell did well to stay only four shots behind with a two-putt from 85 feet away. That gave him a 69, and another date with Woods in the final group today at Doral.

Phil Mickelson, who badly wanted to get into the final group, overcame a three-putt from 4 feet for double bogey on the third hole by making four birdies the rest of the way. He had a 69, along with Steve Stricker, and both were five shots behind.

Woods used to own these WGC events, winning 16 of the first 30 that he played. He has gone 0-for-10 since Firestone in August 2009, though the odds were stacked in his favor at the Cadillac Championship.

He already is a three-time winner at Doral, and he has been putting well ever since Stricker gave him a tip on the eve of the tournament.

“You know what kind of closer he is,” Stricker said. “When he gets the lead in a golf tournament, it’s tough. He doesn’t let too many guys in usually when he gets the lead. We’ve all got our work cut out for us. We’re going to have to go out and try to make birdies on a difficult golf course, which is hard to do.”

It’s even tougher with Woods playing like this. He has matched the low round of the tournament all three days.

For nine holes, McDowell threw his best golf at Woods, and Woods counterpunched in a magnificent display on the breezy Blue Monster.

McDowell opened with a 20-foot eagle, Woods with back-to-back birdies. McDowell hit his approach to 10 feet on the third hole, and Woods followed with a shot 6 inches inside as both made birdie.

McDowell finally tied him for the lead with a 20-foot putt on the sixth hole, and he had a 10-foot birdie attempt on the seventh for the outright lead. The stroke was tentative, and the ball dipped on the low side.

And that was as close as McDowell could get.

Honda Classic winner Michael Thompson and Sergio Garcia each had a 67 and were seven shots back at 11-under 205, along with Charl Schwartzel (69) and Keegan Bradley (69). Masters champion Bubba Watson (71) and was eight shots behind.

PAIR LEAD IN PUERTO RICO

Fabian Gomez of Argentina opened with six birdies on the front nine for a 7-under 65 and a share of the lead with Scott Brown going into the final round of the Puerto Rico Open in Rio Grande.

Brown, who tied for fifth in the Puerto Rico event a year ago, had a 67 to join Gomez in the lead. They set the tournament record at 18-under 198 and were four shots clear.

3 TIED ATOP CHILE CLASSIC

Kevin Kisner’s course-record 11-under 61 put him in a tie atop the Web.com Tour’s Chile Classic in Santiago with Benjamin Alvarado (66) and Edward Loar (69) at 17-under 199.

University Place’s Michael Putnam fell 14 spots with an even-par 72, and was 10 shots back at 10-under 206. Brother Andrew Putnam (74) was at 2-under 214.

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