McDowell leads as Tiger shells out

Graeme McDowell didn’t let up on Saturday afternoon at the Tiger Woods World Challenge, following his tournament-best 6-under-par 66 on Friday with a 4-under 68 to take a two-shot lead into Sunday’s final round.

Here are Five Things to take away from Saturday at Sherwood Country Club:

1. Perfect 10?

Graeme McDowell let the world know about his upcoming 10-week vacation — don’t we all wish we could get a 10-week break? — and now he is 18 holes from leaving the golf world with something to remember.

Much like he did on Friday, McDowell took control early with birdies at Nos. 2 and 4 and would add two more on Nos. 9 and 11 for a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to take a two-shot lead over Keegan Bradley heading into the final round.

McDowell has not won a tournament since winning the World Challenge in 2010, a year that he also won the US Open at Pebble Beach.

McDowell is also five clear of Tiger Woods and Bo Van Pelt.

"If I was to get the job done (Sunday) I may have to stay an extra day and get a real estate agent and have a look around the area because there’s something weird going on here," McDowell said. "I think it’s certainly my kind of course, there’s no doubt about it. It’s a course that rewards a premium on accuracy and a premium on good, aggressive iron play. I’ve always kind of rolled the ball here well, as well. It’s definitely a golf course that sets up well for me."

2. Generous host

According to the Associated Press, Tiger Woods had to reach into his own pocket to keep the World Challenge alive, contributing $4 million to make sure the event’s costs could be covered.

"Northwestern Mutual made a significant contribution as a presenting sponsor, but it left a shortfall," said Greg McLaughlin, the president of the Tiger Woods Foundation. "Tiger stepped up. Tiger’s direct contributions are making up that shortfall."

Longtime friend Steve Stricker says it speaks to how much Woods cares about the event.

"It shows what this event means to him," Stricker said. "There’s a lot of things Tiger does that people don’t know about."

As for his round on Saturday, Woods fired his 69 in the most unusual way — with no birdies on the five par-5 holes, including a three-putt par on No. 11.

He did birdie two tough par-3 holes on the back-nine, making a 20-footer at No. 15 and 15-footer at No. 17.

"It’s wet. It’s long. And overall it’s hard to get the ball close. You have to hit so much club to keep the spin off the ball," said Woods.

Here are some other tidbits from Saturday’s round:

• Tiger is 7 under on the back nine and 1 under on the front nine, including even-par 36s in both the first and third rounds.

• Tiger has bogeyed the par-3 8th each of the first three days. "I think I’m like 15 over par on that hole this week," said Woods.

• Tiger has won this tournament five times and finished runner-up four times. He has played in the event 11 times.

3. Speaking with his play

Keegan Bradley has made plenty of headlines over the past two weeks — mostly because of his pointed comments about the USGA and R&A’s proposed ban of anchoring — a putting stroke that Bradley relies on.

But his play is putting him back in the spotlight after he posted a 5-under 67 — tied with Bubba Watson for the best round of the day.

Bradley started quickly with birdies at Nos. 1 and 3, picking up another one at No. 6 and then lit up the back nine with a pair of par-5 birdies. His only blemish was a bogey at the par-4 9th, a day after posting a bogey-free 69.

Bradley has only two bogeys in the tournament.

Bradley missed an opportunity to move within a shot of McDowell with a narrow miss at No. 18 — giving his controversial putter a kiss, anyway, and smiling at the crowd. There was a reason though.

"I had some guy here call me a cheater on the last hole, which was no fun,” said Bradley. "That’s unfortunate. It’s very disrespectful. But it’s fine with me. I’ve got to try and look at it as motivation to help me try to win this tournament.”

A victory on Sunday would provide the ultimate response.

4. Early birds

Bubba Watson and Steve Stricker hadn’t broken 70 heading into Saturday, but they made significant moves in the third round to get themselves into the top 10.

Watson, coming off a dismal 2-over 74 on Friday, had three birdies over his first seven holes, bogeyed No. 9 and then posted back-to-back-to-back birdies on Nos. 11-13. Watson shot a 5-under 67.

Meanwhile, Stricker was bogey-free with four birdies until a 5 at the par-4 14th. He’d respond with a 20-footer for birdie on No. 15 to fire a 4-under 68.

5. Short shots

• The field was 29 under for the day, with only two players firing rounds over par (Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner).

• Only one player (Jason Day) is over par for the tournament.

• Twelve of the 18 players in the field shot 70 or worse on Saturday.

• Rickie Fowler played with Woods on Saturday and held his own, battling back from a double-bogey at the par-5 2nd hole (he went out-of-bounds with his tee ball) to fire a 2-under 70 behind four birdies and no bogeys.