Tiger (4 under) cards best round to par since ’20

Tiger (4 under) cards best round to par since ’20

LOS ANGELES — The field for this week’s Genesis Invitational included 23 of the top 25 players in the world, including the top three — Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm — and nine of the top 10.

All but seven of those 23 players made the 36-hole cut and were still playing at Riviera Country Club on Saturday.

Only one of them — Rahm, who might very well be the hottest player on the planet — was better in the third round than Tiger Woods, who came into the week ranked 1,294th in the world and hadn’t played in an official PGA Tour event in more than seven months.

After making the cut on the number, the 15-time major champion carded a 4-under 67 to move to 3 under after 54 holes. Woods’ third-round score tied for the third lowest of the day; Denny McCarthy posted a 7-under 64, and Rahm was 6 under. Woods, 47, is tied for 26th after starting the round tied for 58th.

“I wanted to get in touch with the leaders today,” Woods said. “I was hoping to shoot something a little bit lower than I did just so I could reach out to them hopefully with a low round tomorrow. I might be a little far away.”

Woods matched his lowest score to par in a round since he carded a 4-under 68 after 18 holes of the Masters in November 2020. He is looking for his first top-25 finish since he tied for ninth at the Farmers Insurance Open in January 2020.

It will be the first time Woods has played 18 holes in four consecutive days since finishing 47th at the Masters in April. That was his first official event since he was seriously injured in a car wreck outside Los Angeles in February 2021. He played just nine rounds in three major championships last season.

After posting bogeys in three of his last four holes on Friday, putting him in danger of missing the weekend at the tournament he hosts, Woods was much better on Saturday. He carded an eagle and three birdies, and he didn’t record a bogey until the 16th hole he played. Woods hit 9 of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens, and he averaged 306.4 yards off the tee.

“I felt like I made some nice adjustments with my putting, and that was the thing that held me back yesterday,” Woods said. “I’ve driven it well the last three days. My iron play has been good. And the firm conditions I like; that’s kind of right up my alley with iron play. Just wish I could have putted a little bit better yesterday. I made a few adjustments today, and some of the putts went in.”

Woods, after making the turn at 2 under for the round, had his best shot of the day on the par-5 first hole. After his 316-yard drive rolled into the rough, he had 190 yards left. He cut his second shot around a greenside bunker, and his ball stopped 3 feet past the hole. He carded an eagle on what has been the easiest hole at Riviera to move to 4 under.

On the par-3 fourth, Woods blasted his tee shot over the green. With 43 feet left, he made a spectacular chip shot from the rough. His ball stopped a foot from the hole to save par. On the next hole, he made a 12-foot birdie putt to get to 5 under in the round. Then he added another great chip from the fringe to avoid a bogey on the par-3 sixth.

Woods’ lone bogey of the round came on the seventh hole when his second shot landed short and left of the green. He chipped up to 22 feet and left the putt short to drop back to 4 under.

His caddie, Joe LaCava, said Woods didn’t have a good warmup before the round because of a problem with his shoes. Once that was fixed, everything seemed to be good.

“I think the only time he put himself in a bad spot was seven, and that was a matter of 3 yards,” LaCava said. “We talked about going 10 feet right of where he did. The guy is human. Other than that, it was a pretty flawless round.”

Woods started his round on the back nine for the second day in a row. Playing with South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Austria’s Matthias Schwab, Woods got off to a much better start than he did in the second round, when he carded a 3-over 74. He drained a 16-foot birdie on No. 10 and nearly made a 7-footer on the par-5 11th.

Schwab, who had never played with Woods, said he was surprised at how far he was hitting it.

“Chris and I were talking about it, he outdrove us on almost every hole, which was a little bit surprising,” Schwab said.

On the par-4 13th, Woods’ tee shot sailed right, and his ball ended up in a jacket that a fan was wearing around his waist. The ball fell to the ground when the fan removed his jacket, so Woods was given a free drop. He ended up making par on the hole.

After nearly acing the par-3 14th hole on Friday, Woods’ tee shot rolled off the back of the green and settled on the fringe. After getting a good look at his line from Schwab’s putt, Woods sank a 24-footer to move to 2 under par in the round. He had birdie putts on each of the next four holes, as well, including an 11-footer on No. 16 that appeared to be a misread, but he didn’t get them to fall. He was never in danger of making a bogey while carding a 2-under 34 on his first nine holes.

LaCava said the most encouraging thing for him is that Woods’ surgically repaired right leg, ankle and foot have held up from the stress of playing golf for four straight days. Woods also played 16 holes and walked 18 during Wednesday’s pro-am.

“I think that’s where I’m a little more surprised,” LaCava said. “The golf has been nice, but the fact that he’s holding up and looks pretty healthy and not tiring at the end of the rounds is a good sign. We’ve still got one more day to go, but if he gets through tomorrow, that’s 88 straight holes walking up and down.

“People think Riviera is pretty flat, and it is for the most part, but there are some hills. What I’ve noticed more this week is he’s keeping up with the guys coming off the tees and is not lagging way behind. Now, again, he could be just gutting that out, but he’s not going to tell me he doesn’t feel good.”

While Woods seems encouraged by his progress, he said it was too early to know whether he would play again before the Masters, the first major championship of the season, which will be played at Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Club from April 6 to 9. The Players, another elevated event with a $25 million purse, is scheduled March 9-12 at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

“Hopefully, tomorrow go out and play a good one, post this event, we’ll go ahead and reassess everything and see where we are, see how I recover from a full tournament,” Woods said. “I haven’t done this in a while. The last time I did it was at the Open Championship [in July], so it’s been a while. Hopefully, the body will still feel good sometime later next week. As of right now, recovery time will be fun.”

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