December 15, 2007

Tiger Stretches Lead To Six

Despite not being comfortable on the range, Woods fired a third round 67 to stretch his lead to six

Tiger is on the way to his second consecutive Target World Challenge win.

Tiger is on the way to his second consecutive Target World Challenge win.

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) -- Tiger Woods kept stopping his swing to check his position, and he looked neither happy nor comfortable with his progress. This was on the practice range, and it never got much better on the golf course Saturday at the Target World Challenge.

The result was a 5-under 67, the second-best score of the day.

That four-shot lead he took into the third round turned into a six-shot margin heading into Sunday.

"He's very, very good," Masters champion Zach Johnson said, stating the obvious on a day when little else made sense. "If he's in the lead, the gap seems to go the other way. That's just the way it's been. Is it a fact? Is that the way it always is? No. But it's awfully close."

Woods overcame some crooked shots with a few clutch putts, none bigger than a 35-footer for par on the 14th hole when Jim Furyk was poised to turn the final golf tournament of the year into a two-man race.

Four holes later, it was a one-man show.

Furyk dumped his next tee shot into the water and made double bogey, Woods finished off his round with a birdie, and everyone else started thinking that $840,000 for second place maybe wasn't such a bad way to end the season.

"I got away with a couple today," Woods said. "You just have to grind so much harder and look at where you need to miss the golf ball instead of looking up at the flags all the time."

Furyk didn't play poorly except for his 6-iron on the 15th that he said "barely hit the grooves." He wound up with a 69 and earned another date with Woods in the final round Sunday.

Johnson shot 69 and was seven shots behind. He was asked if that was too far back to win.

"What's Tiger at -- 18 under? What am I, 11? That's too far," he said. "Part of it is who's in front of you. It shouldn't be part of it, but when it comes to one individual, that's part of it.

"I would be very comfortable with seven shots myself," he added. "However, if I was Tiger Woods, I'd be more comfortable."

Woods has never lost a tournament in 11 years as a pro when leading by more than one shot going into the last round. And he already is a three-time champion at Sherwood Country Club.

Woods was asked what advice he would give someone trying to make up a six-shot deficit.

"Make a lot of birdies," he said, smiling.

Woods made them seven of them, but the bigger shots were for par. Starting the round with a four-shot lead, he kept his margin with an imaginative pitch from about 30 yards short of the 10th green, hooding his sand wedge for the ball to skip up the slope of the green and stop 2 feet away for birdie.

But on each of the next four holes, Furyk looked as though he would pick up a shot.

Woods hit his drive well to the right on the par-5 11th, so severely blocked by trees that he pitched out nearly sideways, and he wound up holing an 18-foot putt to match birdies with Furyk. On the next hole, Woods got up-and-down from a bunker while Furyk missed a bending birdie putt from 8 feet.

The big blow came on the 14th.

Woods found a huge clump of mud on his ball from the middle of the fairway, and his approach sailed left and plugged into the side of a bunker. The best he could do was blast out some 35 feet past the cup.

Furyk, coming off a birdie on the 13th to reach 14 under, was already in for par when he watched Woods posed over his putt and quickly lift his putter when the ball disappeared.

"It looked like it could have been a two-shot gap, and ended up a five-shot gap real quick," Furyk said. "Tiger has a way of keeping the pedal down ... and now it's six."

Henrik Stenson, who watched Woods' course-record 62 on Friday, made five birdies in a seven-hole stretch on the back nine for a 65, the best round of the day, and was at 10-under 206.

"I would have to shoot another 65 to get to where he's at now, and I don't see him shooting over par," Stenson said. "It feels like at the moment I'm in the race for second place, unless something really out of the blue happens."

The only out-of-the-blue moment was Woods losing his swing, especially after looking so sharp for two days in his first competition since Sept. 30 at the Presidents Cup. But he was searching on the range, and he never quite found it.

Not that it stopped him. He pushed his tee shot into the rough on No. 1, hit sand wedge to the green and made the putt. He pulled his next tee shot so far left that he plunked some kid on the elbow, laid up on the par 5 and hit wedge to birdie range.

But there was a bogey from the bunker on No. 4, a missed 3-footer on the eighth for another bogey, and plenty of times when would dropped the club in disgust. But he couldn't help but be satisfied by the finish — not only the birdie, but the margin.

In some respects, it felt better than his 62 the day before.

"When you turn rounds that potentially feel like even par or maybe 1 over to under par, and you've actually been able to increase your lead, those feel great," he said.

DIVOTS: Woods said the Target World Challenge would be held one week later next year, ending on Dec. 21. He thought that might help the field, especially because it was the same week this year as the Australian Open and South African Open, where Geoff Ogilvy and U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera are playing. ... British Open champion Padraig Harrington hit two in the water on the par-3 third hole and made a quadruple bogey. He was 6 over through four holes, but rallied for a 75. ... Rory Sabbatini took quadruple bogey on the final hole for a 76, leaving him 28 shots behind Woods.