Chasing history: Tiger Woods eyes record win No. 82 at Zozo Championship

AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

Chasing history: Tiger Woods eyes record win No. 82 at Zozo Championship

PGA Tour

Chasing history: Tiger Woods eyes record win No. 82 at Zozo Championship

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CHIBA, Japan – The thing with leads is, if you give one to Tiger Woods, you’re pretty much playing for second place.

Once Woods wraps his giant paws around an advantage, he rarely loosens his grip and many times tightens the hold by increasing the gap between himself and all others. With a lead in Woods’ hand, opponents face an 0-2 count or it’s 3rd-and-35 if you compare it to other sports.

Basically, if you’re chasing Woods, good luck. So, good luck to all whom traveled to Japan for the first official PGA Tour event in the country.

After an all-day affair at Accordia Narashino Country Club – play began at 6:30 a.m. ET Sunday and stopped when the sun set a little over 10 hours later – Woods and his surgically-repaired left knee held a 3-shot lead over Japanese hero Hideki Matsuyama with the storm-delayed Zozo Championship set to finish Monday.

ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP: Updates | Photos | Scores | Tiger’s bag

After playing 29 holes Sunday, Woods was looking for food, standing at 18 under and seven holes away from his record-tying 82nd PGA Tour title. You can cue Yogi Berra’s “It ain’t over till it’s over,” but history proves it would be a futile choice.

“It was a long day and it’s not easy,” Woods said. “Considering that I had the stress of having the lead and being under the gun for that period of time and having come off a knee procedure I haven’t really stressed it like this.

“I’ve played 36 holes (at home) but I’ve been in a cart. Very different than playing tournament golf. Everything held up pretty good.

“Being in it for 10 hours is a long period of time. The mind tends to wander a little bit. You have to make sure you are committed to every shot.”

He did just fine. After rounds of 64-64, Woods took a 2-shot lead into the third round and promptly built on it with four birdies in his first eight holes. His biggest lead became five shots. After putting his signature to a 66, he stood at 16 under through 54 holes and was three shots clear of Matsuyama and four clear of Gary Woodland.

Tiger Woods watches his shot on the 11th hole during the final round of the 2019 Zozo Championship at the Accordia Golf Narashino country club in Japan on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

The tournament was essentially over then as Woods has never failed to win when taking at least a 3-shot lead into the final 18 holes, converting all 24 chances.

In his 45 chances when holding the outright lead after 54 holes, he failed to win just twice. The first came in the 1996 Quad Cities Classic, the first time in his career he held the outright lead after 54 holes. And the other was the 2009 PGA Championship, the first time, after going 14-for-14, he failed to convert a share of the lead after three rounds in a major.

Since the 2009 PGA, Woods is 7-for-7 with 54-hole leads.

Woods held his advantage in the final round with three more birdies against just one bogey. He built up his lead to five again on three occasions.

Matsuyama made matters interesting with birdies on his final two holes – he played 30 holes Sunday – and is at 15 under. The next two closest competitors are Woodland and Sungjae Im, both six back at 12 under.

“I figured if I stayed where I was at I wasn’t going to keep the lead, so I had to keep making birdies and for the most part that’s what I did,” Woods said. “It was a long day in the saddle. I felt like I played well, but I left a few out there.”

Woods is now in line for his second remarkable feat of 2019.

Two years after he thought his career was over, Woods, who got a second lease on life after spinal fusion surgery in 2017, won his fifth green jacket this year and 15th major overall at the Masters.

Then a painful summer of dismal results – and a nagging left knee injury that led to back issues and finally to the operating table Aug. 20 to repair minor cartilage damage – brought whispers of his demise once again.

But nine weeks after last playing tournament golf and two months after his fifth knee surgery, Woods is poised to tie Sam Snead for the most victories on the PGA Tour.

Snead won his 82nd and last title at age 52. Woods is 43.

Woods expected to play well but was surprised he was able to score as well as he has after the lengthy layoff. But just as he was in Augusta in April, Woods, after starting the tournament with three consecutive bogeys, has displayed effortless power and has been calm, confident and mostly spot on with all facets of his game in the Zozo.

His 25 birdies lead the field.

Armed with a lead, Woods becomes even better. With a cushion, he can choose to be conservative when need be while his pursuers must stay in attack mode, which can lead to mistakes. And Woods never gets complacent. If he has a 9-shot lead, he wants to get it to 10 and beyond. Step on their throats, if you will.

He’s kept the lead for 30 holes. He’s in form. He’s three clear of Matsuyama with seven to play. As he looks to win his eighth season opener and make history by joining Snead in the record books, history is on his side.

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