ATLANTA – Marcus Lawton, a retired baseball player from Mississippi, sat behind the fifth green at East Lake Golf Club on Saturday and listened to Tiger Woods. fourth hole. Lawton did not even bother to see Woods, surrounded by an ever-swarming crowd of spectators.
When a roar rose from the fourth green, Lawton turned to a stranger and said: "Add another bird."
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Woods, who the day began tied together with Justin Rose at seven o'clock under par, birdied six of his first seven holes en route to a five-under-65 to sit alone on the leaderboard after the third round of the Tour Championship.
"I started well there," Woods said with a smile: "Good Lord."
Woods goes in search of his first victory since 2013 and enters the final round of Sunday 12 for the tournament, three strokes for his closest challengers, Rose and Rory McIlroy.
Woods, who spent 683 non-consecutive weeks at the top of the men's rankings until his career was derailed by back pain, was paired in the last group with Rose, who spent two weeks at the top of the world rankings state.
"He now plays the number 1 in the world and he wants to show everyone that he still has it," Lawton said
If that was the message of Woods, he delivered it with confidence. From the opening hole, where he discharged a 23-foot putt for a birdie, Woods led a clinic for his gallery.
"The crowds were fantastic," Woods & # 39; s caddy, Joe LaCava, said. "They were also polite to Rosey, but they were clearly pro-Tiger, you can not help but feed them."
The tension must continue on Sunday.
Woods, 42, has won 53 of the 57 times that he has at least kept part of the lead after the third round, and he is 23 for 23 in tournaments after a lead of three strokes or more on the way to the last round. A victory here would be his 80th on the PGA Tour, two shy of the Sam Snead record.
Rose, 38, has won two rounds this season and nine in his career, rebounded from a bogey-bogey start to score a 68. But he will not have the honor to go back to Woods again. On Sunday, that distinction goes to McIlroy, who shot down a 66 and whose 95 non-consecutive weeks at the top of the men's wave is the second longest reign of an active player.
McIlroy said that he was enjoying the victory opportunity to challenge Woods. "I dreamed like a small child in the last group with Tiger Woods in a big tournament," said McIlroy, 29. "He was the best in the world, all time, and you dream of beating the best."
McIlroy dressed in black on Saturday, and someone suggested that he should have saved his third-round outfit for Sunday, when he will certainly be cast by the pro-Woods as the villain. "I think I will wear red," McIlroy said in a humorous allusion to Woods, who made this color his final signature.
McIlroy laughed and added: "All I can do is concentrate on myself, the game is difficult enough without looking at other people, go there, take care of my business, and hopefully that's good enough. "
On a hot, humid day, Woods, ranked number 21 in the world, applied more heat to the field, including 18 of the 20 best players in the world, with a 30 on the first nine.
Woods won the Tour Championship 2007 here with eight strokes after having taken a lead of three tens in the last round. But that kind of dominance was a distant, albeit lively reminder of Woods, which has had four back operations since the spring of 2014 and limited to 12 tours from 2015 to 2017.
His best screenings since he returned to the tour in January, about nine months after the spinal fusion operation, there were two second places: at the Valspar championship outside of Tampa, Florida, in March, where he started the last round and at the PGA Championship, the last big of the year, where he started the last 18 four strokes.
"In March, I did not really have a golf swing yet," said Woods. "I was still trying to figure out how to play."
He said that he now felt infinitely more comfortable with his game. "I've been through a lot this year to get myself at this point, and it understands and fights through it," said Woods. "I am certainly more equipped than I was in March."
Although Woods has not tasted victory for a while, LaCava is almost certain that he has not forgotten the recipe.
"He's a pretty good front-runner his whole career, and of course that's going to help tomorrow," said LaCava, adding that this year he "chases, chases, chases." And people want him to be so bad wins and he comes close, but you have to remember that behind him are people who are able to drop in. It will be nice to know that everyone is waiting for the change, that will help a little bit. two great players behind him. "
Rose and McIlroy have five big titles between them, so Woods would not expect them to get the title. This is ultimately the final of the FedEx Cup play-off, and not the part of the postseason for the lifetime achievement award.
"I would really like to win this event," said Woods, "but I have a bunch of guys behind me who have played well, we shall see what happens."