Woods tied for Abu Dhabi lead; Rory 2 back

The leaderboard is seen after Round 3 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, where Tiger Woods and Robert Rock are tied for the lead at 11 under.

The leaderboard is seen after Round 3 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, where Tiger Woods and Robert Rock are tied for the lead at 11 under.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Tiger Woods put himself in position to win his second straight tournament Saturday, and this one would leave little doubt about which direction his game is going.

He finally won two months ago against an 18-man field in California.

On Saturday, against the strongest field golf has seen in at least three months, Woods shot a 6-under 66 for a share of the lead with Robert Rock going into the final round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.

The topic suddenly shifts from the state of his swing and his health. Woods has a 55-8 record worldwide when he has at least a share of the lead going into the final round, and a win would be the first time since August 2009 that he has won consecutive starts.

More than being atop the leaderboard, it’s how Woods got there.

“It’s fun when I’m able to control the golf ball like I did,” Woods said.

There wasn’t a lot of fist-pumping from Woods, who traded drama for consistency, racking up six birdies in a bogey-free round. It was a memorable performance by the American, mostly for his ability to hit fairways, tame the par 5s and sink clutch putts – including a 6-footer for birdie on the final hole.

“It just seemed like I didn’t do a lot of things right but I didn’t do a lot of things wrong today, it was just very consistent,” Woods said. “You know, made a couple putts here and there. ... I stayed away from trouble and tried to keep the ball towards the fat side of some of these pins, and I think I did a pretty good job.”

Woods finished at 11-under 205. Rock, at No. 117 in the world, birdied his final two holes to join Woods in the last group along with Peter Hanson, who had a 64 and was two shots behind.

Also two back at 9-under 207 were Rory McIlroy, who played with Woods for the third straight day and had a 68, keeping the No. 3 player very much in the picture.

Francesco Molinari (66) and Paul Lawrie (68) also were tied for third. George Coetzee (65), James Kingston (67), overnight leader Thorbjorn Olesen (71) and Jean-Baptiste Gonnet (69) were another shot back.

The two-month break did little to slow Woods’ progress. This was the first time in 20 months – dating to The Players Championship in 2010 – that he broke par in the opening three rounds of any tournament. It was his lowest score since a 66 in the second round of the Masters last year, and his first time atop the leaderboard in a full-field event since he won the Australian Masters in November 2009.

Woods was two shots back after the second round, but started climbing up the leaderboard Saturday with an opening birdie, followed by another on No. 7. He stepped up his game on the back nine and grabbed a share of the lead after he just missed an eagle putt on 10 and settled for a birdie. He briefly took the outright lead with a birdie on 14.

The crowd of several hundred cheered every birdie, with some yelling “Tiger’s back.”

Woods refused to talk about his chances of winning, saying there were too many players within striking distance.

“There’s a ton of guys with a chance to win,” Woods said. “I can’t go out there and shoot even par and expect to win. I’ve got to go out there and go get it.”

Rock, who got his first European Tour win last year in Italy in a playoff with Sergio Garcia, admitted he was star-struck at the prospect of teeing off alongside Woods, calling him “the best guy I’ve ever seen play golf.”

Rock was just one of several players who challenged Woods for the lead after overnight leader Olesen fell back.

Lawrie, the 1999 British Open champion, showed some of the form he displayed when he finished second at the Dubai World Championship in December. He strung together birdies on 10 and 11 to tie Woods for the lead, fell back with bogeys on 14 and 17 and then recovered to birdie the 18th.

Molinari and Hanson also bounced back from opening round 74s to move into contention. Molinari had five birdies on his back nine, while the 47th-ranked Swede had eight birdies in his round – including three on the last five holes – in a bogey-free round to finish with the lowest score of the day.

U.S. Open champion McIlroy also is still in the mix, a day after he had two double bogeys, including on the 9th when he was penalized for brushing away sand in front of his ball. He only had one bogey to go with five birdies Saturday, but the 22-year-old Northern Irishman was forced to scramble several times to save par, including on the 18th when an errant drive went into nearby rocks and almost into a pond.

“I definitely felt today was a lot better than yesterday,” McIlroy said. “So hopefully I can just keep that going tomorrow and maybe get off to a fast start and put pressure on the guys in front of me.”

Top-ranked Luke Donald (73) is 11 shots behind Woods, with No. 2-ranked Lee Westwood (68) seven off the lead.

Any victory would bolster Woods’ claims that work with coach Sean Foley has successfully revamped his swing with a better trajectory on his shots. The process sputtered early on but his body is now “remembering these positions, because this is what I used to be when I was a kid.”

“And that’s one of the things that Sean showed me, some video stuff when I was much younger, back in my teenage years,” Woods said. “He was like, ‘It’s amazing, we need to get back there. That’s where you play some pretty good golf.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’re right. I did’.”

- Associated Press

• • •

See how he got there with our shot-by-shot Tiger Tracker below!

Hole No. 18, Par 5, 567 yards

Rory finds a spot of bother off the tee, in the left waste area, but appears to have an open second shot. Tiger hits a pristine drive off the finishing hole with the driver.

With his ball near a rock, Rory weighs his options and punches over the lake and into another waste area. The scoreboard will be a line-of-sight issue for him and he gets free relief to the left, where his drop settles deep into the rough.

Tiger has 256 yards to the flag and opts to go after it with a 5-wood. He finds the middle of the green and will have 50 feet for eagle.

McIlroy muscles the ball on the green from the deep rough and will have a downhill, 30-foot birdie attempt.

Tiger gives his eagle putt a wonderful run and he'll tap in for a birdie and a third-round 66, his lowest round since a second-round 66 at last year's Masters. His third rounds have been troublesome during his return to form, so putting himself in a good position for Sunday has to feel good.

McIlroy gives his birdie a chance, but he misses low and makes par to shoot 68. He'll be two shots back headed into the final round.

Tiger on the day: 6 under (11 under total)

Elsewhere on the course: Robert Rock made birdie at the 17th and 18th to tie Woods at 11 under. Woods and Rock will play with Peter Hanson (64, 9 under total) in the final round.

• • •

Hole No. 17, Par 4, 483 yards

Woods, wielding driver, misses the 17th fairway, but doesn't catch the fairway bunker.

From the rough, Tiger's approach lands about 60 feet left, in the front of the green, meaning he'll do well to two-putt from there.

McIlroy knocks it stiff at the 17th, however, nestling it within two feet.

Tiger hits a great putt to set up a three-foot par attempt, which he makes. Rory taps in his birdie and moves to 9 under par, into a four-way tie for second.

Elsewhere on the course: Robert Rock was unable to convert a 10-foot par at the 16th, leaving Tiger in the solo lead.

• • •

Hole No. 16, Par 4, 475 yards

Pleading for his ball to "bite," Tiger's tee shot at 16 runs out of gas just before rolling into the fairway bunker. McIlroy's struggles off the tee continue, however, as he misses the fairway wide left.

Tiger will have a chance at grabbing the solo lead, flying the ball about 12 feet past the pin and giving himself a good look at birdie.

McIlroy's approach from the left rough lands 30 feet past the flag and McIlroy two-putts to remain at 8 under.

Tiger leaves his birdie attempt out to the right, missing well on the low side. He taps in for par and remains in a tie with Robert Rock.

Tiger on the day: 5 under (10 under for the tournament)

• • •

Hole No. 15, Par 3, 177 yards

Tiger puts it safely on the green, but he isn't happy about it. He'll have more than 40 feet for birdie.

Meanwhile, McIlroy puts it in tight, going right over the flag and rolls in the birdie putt, moving to 8 under, two back of the leaders.

Tiger cleans up with a routine two-putt and moves on, sharing the lead.

Tiger on the day: 5 under (10 under for tournament)

• • •

Hole No. 14, Par 4, 490 yards

Using another fairway wood, Tiger hammers it into the middle of the fairway, while McIlroy uses driver and does the same thing.

Tiger's approach lands pin-high, but about 20 feet left of the flag. He drains the lengthy putt and takes the outright lead at 10 under.

McIlroy goes over the flag with his approach and his birdie putt fades off to the right. He settles for yet another par.

Tiger on the day: 5 under (10 under for tournament)

• • •

Hole No. 13, Par 4, 414 yards

Using a fairway wood, Tiger's tee ball hits on the right side of the fairway, but it trickles into the bunker.

With better rhythm, McIlroy uses fairway wood and smacks it down the left side of the fairway, with the ball running into the first cut of rough.

From the bunker, Tiger is able to get it up and over the flag, with the ball resting just off the back of the green. From about 15 feet, Tiger leaves it in front of the hole but taps in for a par.

McIlroy plays it safe and lands his approach shot in the middle of the green. His putt doesn't want to work back enough and he settles for par.

Tiger on the day: 4 under (9 under for tournament)

Elsewhere on the course: Peter Hanson is in the clubhouse at 9 under after a third-round 64.

• • •

Hole No. 12, Par 3, 186 yards

With Paul Lawrie moving to 9 under, Tiger will try to keep pace after putting his tee ball to within six feet at the par 3.

McIlroy immediately releases club upon impact and is upset over a tee ball that finds another greenside bunker.

Tiger drains the putt and is now tied with Lawrie at 9 under.

McIlroy nearly hits the pin with his bunker shot, but since it doesn't, it runs about 10 feet past the hole. He rolls in the putt and saves par.

Tiger on the day: 4 under (9 under for tournament)

• • •

Hole No. 11, Par 4, 417 yards

Tiger takes a fairway wood off the tee and tries to cut the corner, but it gets caught in the rough. Meanwhile, McIlroy had his drive run through the fairway and just into a bunker.

Tiger safely puts in on the green again, about 20 feet under the hole. The tracking on the birdie putt was nearly perfect, but it slides by on the left and the taps it in for a par.

From the bunker, McIlroy lands just over Tiger's ball and comes to rest about 12 feet from the pin. He plays the putt a bit too far outside left and picks up a par to stay at 7 under.

Tiger on the day: 3 under (8 under for tournament)

Elsewhere on the course: George Coetzee birdied No. 18 for a 65 and is now the clubhouse leader at 8 under.

• • •

Hole No. 10, Par 5, 582 yards

Tiger's feet don't slip this time and he pounds it past Robert Karlsson, right in the middle of the fairway. McIlroy gets the same distance, but is on the right side of the fairway.

Tiger smokes a 3-wood from the fairway and puts it safely on the green in two, with a 30-foot eagle putt ahead. He puts it to about one foot with the eagle putt and settles for birdie and is now tied for the lead with three others.

McIlroy tries to do the same, but the ball continues to fade and he lands in sand beyond the rough to the right of the green. He tries to get his third shot up high enough, but it doesn't reach the green and he'll be chipping with his fourth shot. He chips it nice and snug and saves par.

Tiger on the day: 3 under (8 under for tournament)

Elsewhere on the course: The top of the leaderboard is a moving target, with Jean-Baptiste Gonnet, James Kingston and Peter Hanson now tied at 8 under, with nine others one stroke back (including Thomas Bjorn, who just ended his round).

• • •

Hole No. 9, Par 4, 456 yards

Using a fairway wood, Tiger's back right foot slips during his swing and the ball heads right and settles in the sand beyond the rough.

McIlroy uses driver and finds himself in the second cut of rough on the right side.

With a clear shot at the green despite his wayward tee ball, Tiger puts it safely on the green and sits about 30 feet from the hole. His birdie putt comes to rest two inches to the left of the cup and he taps in for another par and makes the turn at 2 under for the day.

McIlroy has to dig deep into the rough on his second shot and it fades right and into a greenside bunker. His bunker shot is well-played and comes to rest about five feet past the hole. He makes the par putt and also goes to No. 10 at 2 under on the round.

Tiger on the day: 2 under (7 under for tournament)

Elsewhere on the course: There is now a 12-way tie for second place at 7 under, with Jean-Baptiste Gonnet in the lead at 8 under.

• • •

Hole No. 8, Par 5, 597 yards

With driver in hand, Tiger bombs it to the middle of the fairway, giving him a shot to go at the green in two. McIlroy follows with another deep drive, but it kicks right and into a fairway bunker.

Tiger takes a big hack at his second shot and it comes up just short of the green, but he'll have a clear look at the hole with his chip up the hill. A poor chip runs about 15 past the hole and leaves him with a downhill birdie putt. He gives it a good run, but it doesn't break back as much as he thought and settles for another par-5 par.

McIlroy is forced to simply advance it down the fairway with his second shot, leaving a wedge into the green. He lands his approach under the hole and has about 10 feet for birdie. He also misses on the high side and taps in for par.

Robert Karlsson is the only member of the group that birdies and he moves to 7 under.

Tiger on the day: 2 under (7 under for tournament)

Elsewhere on the course: Overnight-leader Thorbjorn Olesen bogeys for the second-straight hole to fall two shots off the pace, but then rebounds with a long birdie to move back to 7 under.. Robert Rock has joined that group of players at 7 under, while James Kingston has fallen back to 7 under. Jean-Baptiste Gonnet and Paul Lawrie hold the lead at 8 under.

• • •

Hole No. 7, Par 3, 200 yards

Tiger nearly runs it in for an ace, landing on the front portion of the green and watched it run past by about three feet.

And, somehow, McIlroy gets inside of Tiger, stopping two inches from the cup.

Walking down to the green together, McIlroy gives Tiger a friendly nudge and the two start laughing a bit.

Tiger makes the bending short putt for another birdie, while McIlroy also taps in. Both are one shot off the lead.

Tiger on the day: 2 under (7 under for tournament)

Elsewhere on the course: Charl Schwartzel bogeys the par-5 8th to fall back to 6 under.

• • •

Hole No. 6, Par 4, 469 yards

The twirl has returned, as Tiger uses fairway wood off the and pounds it into the middle of the fairway - giving a little twirl of the club to let everyone know he is happy with the shot.

McIlroy's drive finds the left of the fairway and his second shot hits well left of the hole and he'll have a long putt for birdie.

Tiger goes a bit long with his approach shot, hitting near the back of the green and trickling into the first cut of rough. He goes after the cup with his small chip and it runs about three feet past. He makes it and stays at 6 under.

McIlroy's birdie putt is a bad misread and he leaves himself about five feet for par. He misses on the top side and picks up his first bogey of the day and drops back to 6 under.

Tiger on the day: 1 under (6 under for tournament)

Elsewhere on the course: Graeme McDowell has joined Tiger and McIlroy at 6 under with a birdie on No. 8. Meanwhile, Matteo Manassero drops back to 6 under and overnight-leader Thorbjorn Olesen drops out of the lead with a bogey.

• • •

Hole No. 5, Par 4, 469 yards

McIlroy's second-round birdie is the only time either Tiger or Rory has conquered this hole, both settling for pars in the first two rounds.

Continues to be a routine hole for both players, as they both par.

Tiger on the day: 1 under (6 under for the tournament)

Elsewhere on the course: James Kingston is now tied for the lead at 8 under, while Charl Schwartzel, Matteo Manassero, Jean-Baptiste Gonnet and Paul Lawrie have joined McIlroy at 7 under.

• • •

Hole No. 4, Par 3, 174 yards

Both Tiger and McIlroy are 1 under on the par-3 4th hole, with Tiger picking up a birdie in the first round and McIlroy carding one on Friday.

And the good vibes continue for McIlroy, who moves out of the pack at 6 under with a birdie to move within a shot of the lead. Tiger picks up a par on the shortest hole on the course.

Tiger on the day: 1 under (6 under for tournament)

• • •

Hole No. 3, Par 4, 439 yards

Tiger and McIlroy step to the tee with less-than-thrilling memories of No. 3 on Friday, with Tiger picking up his first bogey of the tournament, while McIlroy took the first of two double-bogeys in a round of even-par 72.

Thus far, this has been a heavyweight boxing match and the boxers are simply trading blows at the middle of the ring, as they match each other again with pars, but are now two shots back of Thorbjorn Olesen, who birdies No. 2.

Robert Karlsson joins the party at 6 under with a birdie on No. 3.

Tiger on the day: 1 under (6 under for tournament)

Elsewhere on the course: Masters champ Charl Schwartzel has moved to 6 under while former major champ Padraig Harrington is at 5 under.

• • •

Hole No. 2, Par 5, 600 yards

The most surprising stat of the week? Tiger is only 1 under on the par 5s through two rounds, picking up a birdie at No. 8 in the second round. The long Abu Dhabi GC can be penal off the tee, and Tiger has been erratic on fairways hit on par 5s.

Meanwhile, McIlroy is 5 under on par 5s through two rounds, showing that both players have taken different routes to contention.

In a seven-way tie for second place, Tiger and McIlroy pick up pars on the monster second hole.

Tiger on the day: 1 under (6 under for the tournament)

Elsehwere on the course: Thomas Bjorn is 6 under on the day - through only nine holes - and is only one shot off the lead now as well. Richard Finch and James Kingston are also at 6 under.

• • •

Hole No. 1, Par 4, 405 yards

Tiger and Rory will be joined by Robert Karlsson for today's round. Karlsson struggled getting into the clubhouse yesterday, having a chance to move to 6 under after making the par-5 18th in two shots, but three-putted for a pedestrian par.

Tiger has played the first hole at 1 under through two rounds, while McIlroy found trouble on Friday and has played the hole at 1 over.

Joined by overflow crowds (it is a holiday weekend in Abu Dhabi), Tiger and Rory both start very quickly, matching birdies from about 10 feet on the first hole to move within a shot of the lead.

Tiger on the day: 1 under (6 under for the tournament)

• • •

The start of a beautiful rivalry?

Our Alistair Tait opines that Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are previewing what a friendly rivalry could do for the game of golf. Some of today's biggest names feel that McIlroy is the only player out there that has the talent to challenge Tiger's former dominance. Meanwhile, Tiger seems to be finding his form that could help him extend some of those untouchable records. Regardless, there is "major" intrigue. Column.

• • •

Getting social with Golfweek

Look for European writer Alistair Tait on the scene, we will bring you shot-by-shot analysis of Tiger's round on Thursday. Follow him on Twitter here, or Golfweek Magazine here.

• • •

Previewing Tiger's debut

Tiger Woods finished 2011 in dramatic fashion, beating Zach Johnson to win the Chevron World Challenge and pick up his first win in more than two years.

Does that mean that Tiger is back? That we don't know, but the signs point to a return to weekly contention.

We've spent a lot of time this week dissecting Tiger, including Jim McCabe's feature story on where others feel that Tiger's game is at and whether or not 2012 could be a return to old form. Check out that story here.

Our Alistair Tait also caught Tiger's press conference on Tuesday, and left unimpressed, opining that Tiger needs to open up more about golf-centric questions. Read that story here.

Jim McCabe questions why people would criticize Tiger for playing in Abu Dhabi because he was paid an appearance fee. Check out his tongue-in-cheek column here.

Welcome to Golfweek.com's comments section.
Please review the posting guidlines here: Golfweek.com Community Guidelines.
All accounts must be verified using Disqus email verification