Golf

Woods four shots off lead

Robert Lusetich recaps Round 3 of the Tour Championship.
Robert Lusetich recaps Round 3 of the Tour Championship.
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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ATLANTA

The drive was, in Tiger Woods’ own words, “a bad, bad tee shot.”

Woods had just come off a birdie on the par-5 15th — two-putting from 40 feet — to rejoin the conversation at the Tour Championship, and he suddenly looked like he was slipping back into the peloton.

“I’m only four back and (the leaders) haven’t played 15 yet, and if they pick up a shot there and I drop a shot (on 16), all of a sudden, it’s six and that’s big,” he said.

Woods saw a gap in the right trees, like he used to in the old days.

“I looked at a pitch out sideways, but there is no guarantee I could actually keep it on the fairway because my lie wasn’t very good,” he said.

So he went for the heroic shot, like he always has.

“I ended up pulling it just a touch,” he conceded.

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Woods’ effort hit a tree and the ball caromed, fortuitously, back into the fairway.

It’s often forgotten that back in the day, he wasn’t only good, but he was lucky, too.

From there, Woods was left with 145 yards, a distance that hasn’t exactly been prosperous for him this year.

But he fired a wedge to 11 feet and, critically, holed the putt.

“That was nice to keep the momentum going,” he said.

It was reminiscent of the Tiger of old, said his playing partner Luke Donald, who’s seen a lot of magic from him over the years.

“He’s grinding hard over that par putt,” the Englishman said.

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“He looked like he wanted it.”

And, just like that, Woods overcame a second-round 73 to give himself a crack on Sunday at both the Tour Championship and the $10 million FedExCup Playoff booty.

Woods only hit six fairways on Saturday — normally a foundation for a bad score at East Lake — but recovered well to shoot a 67 that left him in a tie for seventh, four shots off the lead of Brandt Snedeker and Justin Rose.

Rory McIlroy, who has the inside running on the $10 million prize money because of his top seeding at East Lake, is one shot ahead of Woods after carding a 68.

If Bubba Watson had missed a four-footer for par on the last hole on Saturday, Woods and McIlroy would’ve played together on Sunday.

Instead, Ryan Moore plays with the young Northern Irishman, and Woods will go off in the fourth-to-last pairing of the afternoon with Robert Garrigus.

It might have been a surprise to some after his poor play on Friday to see Woods back in the hunt.

Not to him.

“I’ve done it before,” he said.

“I’ve been out here a long time. Just claw your way back into it, and usually I’ll take a round in the 60s.

“I figured guys aren’t going to go out and run off and hide on this golf course. It’s just playing too difficult.”

Will he be thinking about the $10 million?

“That’s not why we play,” he said.

“I’m playing for the ‘W,’ and tomorrow I’ve got a great shot at it. “All the money and the awards and all of that stuff, that comes along with winning championships. That’s the way I’ve always looked at it.

“If I win the golf tournament, everything’s kind of taken care of.”

For a player such as Snedeker — who as it stands going into Sunday’s round has the points to win the $10 million (though it all depends on how others finish) — the pressure might be a little higher.

He’s had three wins in his career, but they’ve all been because he’s shot low Sunday rounds and the leaders have capitulated.

“I’ve never had a lead going into Sunday and won, so that’s the next evolution, the next step in becoming a world-class player,” the Tennessean said.

“I need to show that I can do that.”

He’s also playing, in a sense, to validate the faith Davis Love III showed in him by making him a captain’s pick for next week’s Ryder Cup.

“You always want to make sure your captains look good,” he said with a smile.

Snedeker shot 64 on Saturday and, to no one’s surprise, leads the field in putting.

“He is hot right now,” said NBC commentator Johnny Miller, “Hot, hot, hot. If he keeps putting like this, he could be the anchor for the US team next week as a rookie.”

That might be a stretch — hardly a first for Miller — but Snedeker would take the $10 million first and deal with the Ryder Cup when he gets to Chicago.

“It’s going to be one of the most exciting Sundays of the year,” said McIlroy.

Tagged: Tiger Woods, Brandt Snedeker, Rory McIlroy

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