It’s been 54 months since Woods’ last victory at the 2013 WGC – Bridgestone Invitational and the now 42-year old is set to dispel any criticism, and not that he has not already done in 13 rounds this new season, with what would be a 80th PGA Tour success.
Woods went into day three trailing two shots from the lead and at the end of the round was again sharing second place, just one behind 26-year old rookie Canadian Corey Conners.
Conners, who had qualified for the £4.6m event on Monday, continues to defy the expects having now lead for all three rounds and adding a three-under par 68 to his opening scores of 67 and 69 to move to nine-under par on the Copperhead course at the Innisbrook Resort near Tampa on Florida’s west coast.
Woods is tied in second place at eight-under with England’s Justin Rose (66) and American Brandt Snedeker (67) and with Woods to be again paired with Snedeker over the final day as he was in today’s third round.
“I feel very excited going into tomorrow and I feel very good,” said Woods.
“I feel like I am playing a bit better and a lot cleaner as I missed the green with a sand wedge in my hand on Friday and taking a lost hole bogey.
“Other than that, it’s been a pretty clean three days as I feel really good over everything.
“I’ve kept myself high up the board and I know I was tied at one stage, I am now only one back and I’ve got a good shot tomorrow.”
And when quizzed when he returns to his hotel tonight will he be thinking about winning.
“Of course, I will,” he said smiling.
“I am only one back and as I said it is a bunched leaderboard and I have a shot at victory tomorrow.
“I need to play a good solid round and put in a clean score card.”
Woods’ third round scorecard shows five birdies and just the one bogey, and starting his round with a wayward drive left into the tree line but managing to scramble his way to par ahead of bringing a record crowd to their feet in holing a 20-footer for birdie at the par-4 third hole.
The 14-time Major winner then went into a share of the lead with a birdie at the par-5 fifth hole before the highlight of his round when he chipped-in from some 30-feet behind the flag at the uphill par-4 ninth hole, and with the third birdie of his round momentarily taking Woods into the lead.
A third birdie followed at the downhill par-4 10th hole before dropping a shot at par-3 14th after an errant 30-yard left tee shot but Woods won back the shot at the next in two-putting from some 48-feet on the front of the green at the par-5 14th.
There was wild scenes after his round, and not seen since the height of ‘Tigermania’ in the early 2000s, and with local Pinnelas County Police and tournament security staff clearly stretched to contain the excitement that has been present this week, and in what is Woods first appearance in the event.
And to Woods’ credit, and something he rarely did at the height of his career and that was stop to sign autographs after his round.
Given it is has been over three-years since Woods has been in a position for victory, and given four well-published back operations, Woods was asked what would it mean if he were to win tomorrow.
“We’ll cross that bridge, Bernie, when we get there. Hopefully it will be tomorrow,” he said.
“The biggest challenge tomorrow is that there’s a packed leaderboard. There’s so many guys played their way back up into this tournament. Scotty (Adam Scott) played well, he got it up there. Rosy (Justin Rose) has been playing well. He’s playing a Top-10 almost every single week he’s played over the last five, six months.
“So, there’s a lot of guys up there, so, you know, myself included. Got to go out there and really play well again.
“Hopefully I’ll make a few more birdies and keep that card clean.”
Indeed, there is 17 players within five shots of the lead including Scotland’s Russell Knox who joined Rose and past Masters champion, Adam Scott in shooting a round of 66.
And while Knox would dearly love to capture a third Tour victory, the Scot is focussed on improving his current No. 98 World Ranking and joining Woods in next month’s Masters.
“Another round of 66 like that tomorrow will be great to take to the Arnold Palmer and then a great showing at Bay Hill could get me into the Match-Play and hopefully then onto Augusta,” said Knox.
“The Masters in my burning goal and you never know into this game.”
Tee times – (UK time)
6.50pm – Tiger Woods, Brandt Snedeker
7pm – Justin Rose, Corey Conners