Tiger Woods races toward lead, fades late in thrilling Saturday 68 at Memorial

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Tiger Woods races toward lead, fades late in thrilling Saturday 68 at Memorial

PGA Tour

Tiger Woods races toward lead, fades late in thrilling Saturday 68 at Memorial

Tiger Woods’ next win? It could just be a day away.

The 42-year-old put together some of his old magic Saturday at the Memorial Tournament – an event he’s won five times – moving into a share of the lead at one point in a round that he started six back.

A late pair of bogeys did dent his day, though.

Woods made an eagle, four birdies and two bogeys in a third-round 4-under 68 at Muirfield Village, putting him in the clubhouse at 9 under. When he got there, he was four off the lead of Joaquin Niemann.

For those looking for optimism in Woods’ comeback, the last two-and-a-half days have been a godsend in a lot of ways.

His tournament began in tatters, as Woods played his first seven holes in 4 over. Woods said back tightness played a role in that sluggish start and that he made some adjustments in his swing and setup thereafter that day. Those changes saw him play his final 11 holes in 4 under for a gutsy Even-par 72.

His Friday was much better, as Woods opened with bogey but played his next eight in 4 under to go out in 33. He then provided the early moment of the tournament at the par-5 11th when he spun his wedge third back into the cup for an eagle.

He then hit his tee shot at the par-3 12th to 6 feet, but a weather delay halted his momentum. When he returned from the suspension, Woods missed the putt left. His flatstick would hold him back on the day, as he missed five putts inside 8 feet.

Yet, his ball-striking was so good that he still fired a 5-under 67 to move into the fringe of contention.

And then came Saturday.

It appeared more of the same early in his third round when he hit approach shots at Nos. 2-4 to 11, 8 and 15 feet but missed all three birdie putts. Woods didn’t let the frustration set in, though.

He launched his second shot from 237 yards at the par-5 fifth 14 feet beyond the cup and drained the putt for an eagle. Woods rolled in a 10-footer for birdie at the next and made it an eagle-birdie-birdie stretch when he two-putted from 54 feet for birdie at the par-5 seventh.

A wedge at the par-4 ninth spun back to 4 feet, and Woods dropped the putt for a birdie and a 5-under 31. He was now 10 under and one back.

His round would stall from there. Woods made four straight pars before getting a wedge to 4 feet again at the par-4 14th. That short birdie putt was left to tie the lead, but Woods hit it too hard and the ball caught the right lip and scurried on.

No matter. Woods hits a poor, hooked drive at the par-5 15th, laid up and wedged to 14 feet. He made up for it all when he buried a swinging left-to-right birdie putt to tie the lead at 11 under.

The stunning putt sent the crowd into a frenzy and was certainly the apex of the day. The buzzkill started to come in right away, as Woods three-putted for bogey at the next to drop him from the lead and ruin his clean card.

He then three-putted again at 18, lipping out a 40-inch putt. That meant two three-putt bogeys in his last three holes to dampen the day.

For the second straight day, Woods turned a potentially low round into something in the higher 60s because of his putter. His putting was better on Saturday than Friday, but that meant a strokes gained: putting valuation around -1.5 shots versus his second round numbers north of -3.5.

His ball-striking has simply been stunning, though. He’s in the top 10 despite being one of the few worst putters this week among those who made the weekend.

It hasn’t pristine and definitely not ideal on the greens, but Woods is bolstering the hopes of his fans.

Going into Sunday, he is in contention for his first PGA Tour win in five years and 80th overall.

If he gets the putter working for a full round Sunday, that long-awaited victory may very well come his way.

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