Something to Shout About
Sunday, June 15, 2008
SAN DIEGO, June 14 -- Tiger Woods got off to another sloppy start in the 108th U.S. Open on Saturday, playing his first four holes in 3 over par, including another opening-hole double bogey. But it hardly seemed to matter in a third round that saw so many players who began the day in serious contention lose all hope for a championship now very much within Woods's reach.
By the end of a cool, overcast afternoon hard by the Pacific Ocean, the No. 1 player in the world had made a magnificent, 70-foot eagle putt at the 539-yard 13th hole, holed a 50-foot flop shot at the 441-yard 17th for birdie and sunk a 30-foot eagle putt at the 530-yard 18th hole to take over this tournament with a stunning round of 70 and a three-day total of 3-under-par 210 at Torrey Pines South Course.
Woods has won six Buick Invitationals on the PGA Tour at this public venue, including the last four. He will enter Sunday's final round a shot ahead of steady Englishman Lee Westwood, who shot a 70 for a 2-under 211, and two strokes ahead of veteran Rocco Mediate (72 -- 212). They're the only three men in the remaining field of 80 players below par after 54 rollicking holes off the Southern California coast on an afternoon when only 11 players posted sub-par 18-hole scores.
"Just a terrible start," Woods said. "But I somehow got it back to under par for the day. A lot of luck involved. That shot I hit at 17, that has no business going in the hole. I hit it too hard. It came out hot. One hop and it's in the hole. After I hit it, I thought I would have had an eight- or 10-footer coming back down the hill. I hope I can be a little more consistent" Sunday.
Playing in his first tournament eight weeks after knee surgery, he winced in pain after countless shots during the round. He said his knee was "more sore" than it was in the first two rounds and "there are certain shots I'll feel it. You can't say it's the drive, you can't say it's a wedge because I don't know which one it's going to happen on."
Pain or no pain, precedent is very much on Woods's side as he attempts to win the 14th major title of his career. In each of his 13 major victories, he was either tied for the lead or held it outright after 54 holes. On Sunday, he will be in the final group (paired with Westwood) for the sixth time in the last eight majors, courtesy of those two final exclamation points on his memorable round.
The first came at No. 17. In deep greenside grass, he lofted a third-shot wedge from about 50 feet of the hole and watched in some disbelief as it took one bounce and jumped into the cup for a thoroughly improbable birdie 3.
After he missed the fairway for the fifth consecutive hole, "honestly, I was just thinking whatever you do, don't make six here; just give yourself a chance of making four," he said. "All of a sudden, I walk away with three."
At 18, he finally did hit the fairway, then sent his second shot soaring to the green. From 30 feet out, he watched his eagle putt trickle inexorably into the cup for a birdie-eagle finish that had thousands standing and cheering as if the hometown Chargers had just won the Super Bowl.
His playing partner, Sweden's Robert Karlsson, had an eagle putt at 18 along the same line as Woods, and the Swede's 50-foot putt stopped an inch short of going into the hole. Woods said he paid close attention to Karlsson's effort, particularly the last few feet when it broke sharply toward the cup.
"When it went in," he said, "I knew I read it right."
Westwood, 35, is a veteran Ryder Cup player who competes mostly on the European Tour. He tied for 11th this year at the Masters and has two career top 10 finishes in the Open. He pushed into the temporary lead for the first time all week when Mediate, the leader for most of the day, made double bogey out of the rough at the 478-yard 15th hole. Minutes later, Westwood tapped in for par at the 530-yard 18th hole and briefly led the tournament until Woods final-hole heroics.