DORAL, Fla. – Tiger Woods is in command after shooting 5-under 67 Saturday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. He’ll start the final round with a four-shot lead over Graeme McDowell.
Here’s 5 Things you need to know from Saturday’s play at Doral:
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1. OUT FRONT: Tiger Woods has won three times at Doral. His 67 Saturday put him within reach of another win at the Blue Monster, as well as his first World Golf Championship since the 2009 Bridgestone Invitational. Woods has converted 50 of 54 third-round leads and co-leads on the PGA Tour. He has a career-best 24 birdies through 54 holes this week, two better than his previous best.
“I’m pleased with how clean the cards have been this week,” said Woods, who has made six bogeys in three rounds. He’s at 18-under 198.
He birdied the first three holes Saturday, with the first two coming on tap-ins. He two-putted for birdie at the par-5 first hole after hitting his second shot to 11 feet, then hit a 122-yard approach at the second to 7 inches. He made a 9-foot birdie putt at the next hole. He capped his round with a 16-foot birdie putt at the final hole. Woods hit 12 greens Saturday despite hitting just six fairways.
Players are supposed to face windy conditions for Sunday’s final round. Woods is scheduled to tee off with Graeme McDowell at 2:40 p.m.
“It’s important to play well, especially if the wind is going to blow like it is,” Woods said. “I think that if you’re coming from behind, it’s always nice to have tough conditions.”
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2. REPEAT PERFORMANCE? Graeme McDowell has overtaken a four-shot Tiger Woods lead before.
He did it at the unofficial 2010 Chevron World Challenge, the culmination of a year that included his U.S. Open victory and his holing of the winning putt at the Ryder Cup. McDowell shot 69 Saturday and is at 14-under 202.
He’ll have to do the same Sunday if he wants to win his first World Golf Championship. He pulled within one shot of Woods after a front-nine 32, but a tough stretch to start the back nine gave Woods breathing room.
McDowell was one shot off the lead after playing the front nine in 4-under 32. He made his first eagle of the day at No. 1 after hitting a 221-yard second shot at the par-5 to 20 feet. He added another birdie at Nos. 3 and 6, the latter coming on another 20-foot putt. He lost two strokes to Woods on the first two holes of the back nine after missing two putts inside 10 feet on Nos. 10 and 11.
Those misses resulted in par on the par-5 10th and bogey on the 11th, his first of the week. McDowell was three behind when he arrived at the par-4 14th, but he fluffed a chip and made-double bogey, calling it a “killer blow.”
“It was a lot of fun out there, certainly for the first 11 holes,” McDowell said. “I lost my way a little bit for four or five holes, and he was pretty impressive. But a lot of fun to be out there with one of the best players in the world and getting a chance to tussle with him again tomorrow.”
McDowell had been bogey-free for the tournament’s first 45 holes. He was 3 over for the first five holes of the back nine on Saturday, though. He redeemed himself with Saturday’s second eagle, a chip-in at the drivable par-4 16th. McDowell, who hit 15 greens, finished with a 69 after a two-putt from 85 feet at the 18th hole. He lagged his lengthy birdie putt to 9 inches.
“Not sure if I can hit the ball any better than I did,” McDowell said. “Really controlled everything extremely well.”
He’ll have to do that again if he wants to catch Woods.
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3. COMEBACK CHANCE: That glass that seemingly is sitting half empty? Phil Mickelson sees it as nearly full. But don’t laugh, because the man exudes confidence and you have to feel that if anyone can turn this Cadillac Championship into a Sunday show, it’s the left-hander.
He certainly believes that, almost issuing a warning to the front-runner, Tiger Woods.
“It’s a tough golf course when you have to make birdies,” Mickelson said. “It’s not as hard to make them first.”
Therein lies the Mickelson game plan for Sunday’s final round: go out in the group ahead of Woods and Graeme McDowell, toss down a bunch of birdies, and challenge the leader to follow suit. Given that Mickelson is 13 under and five behind Woods, he best make a a bucket-full of putts.
Again, he talks with great confidence and suggests he’s up to the task.
“I’ve hit the ball way better than I’ve scored,” Mickelson said, and there’s good reason to accept his word on that. At the par-4 third, the lefthander was just short of the green, then pitched to 4 feet, but instead of making the par-save, he three-putted for a double-bogey.
Then, at the par-5 eighth (second-easiest) and par-5 10th (sixth-easiest), Mickelson failed both times to get it up-and-down to make birdie.
“I threw away so many shots,” he said after a round of 69 lost him even more ground to Woods’ 67, but to make a charge and go really, really deep, “I don’t really have to play that different than I did today.”
Several times, Mickelson referenced the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where he was six off Charlie Wi’s lead and two behind his playing competitor, Woods, through 54 holes. But Mickelson closed with 64 and won by two.
“I’m going to have to play a really incredible round,” he said.
The glory of it is, not only does he believe he can do it, we’ve seen him do it.
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4. ON A ROLL: Steve Stricker is tied for third place with Phil Mickelson. Stricker shot 69 and is at 13-under 203.
It should be no surprise he’s fifth in strokes gained-putting this week. Stricker made birdie putts of 4 and 6 feet on the first two holes, then sank a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-5 eighth. His two back-nine birdies came at the par-5 10th, where he holed a 9-footer, and after he drove the green at the short par-4 16th. Stricker followed his two bogeys Saturday, at Nos. 7 and 15, with birdies on the next hole.
“There were some holes in the middle of the round where I didn’t hit too many good iron shots, kind of miss-hit a couple,” Stricker said. “Just never really gave myself any good birdie opportunities today. Just kind of plodded along, made my pars and tried to stay out of trouble.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: The Blue Monster has gotten the best of Luke Donald, who made double-bogey on the hole in each of the first three rounds. Donald’s tee shot skipped out of the water and onto dry land Saturday, but his 8-iron landed in the lake. “Maybe they could move it up a little bit and get rid of the water or something,” Donald joked after Saturday’s third round. “I’ve played that hole well and I’ve played it poorly, and obviously this year I’ve played it very poorly.” In rinsing a sleeve at the 18th hole, Donald tossed away his chance for a good tournament. Donald, No. 3 in the Official World Golf Ranking, is T-49 at 1-over. “I’m still not playing great, but it’s a big difference between 1 over and 5 under,” Donald said. “It’s never nice coming in making a 6.” . . . Charl Schwartzel, who was second here in 2010 and fourth last year, is in line for another good finish. He is T-5 at 11 under par. “I had a chance to really get myself up there,” Schwartzel said. “I’m missing a lot of short putts and I need to sharpen up on that.” . . . Michael Thompson had five top-10s in 60 career PGA Tour starts before last week’s Honda Classic victory. He has a chance to collect two consecutive top-10s for the first time in his career as he stands T-5 through 54 holes. “I’m still swing the club well and hitting the ball solid. ”Making some good putts out there and giving myself chances,” he said. “I like to say I want to let me clubs do the talking and I feel they’re talking pretty loudly.”
Jim McCabe contributed to this report.