Tiger Woods two back, in final group on Sunday at the Masters
12 Min Read
Trails Francesco Molinari by two at Masters; aims for fifth green jacket
Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods has never come from behind to win a major.
Then again, he’d never won a tournament with a fused back before last fall, when he won the TOUR Championship for his 80th PGA TOUR victory. Perhaps there’s a first time for everything, including threesomes on Masters Sunday to preempt the terrible weather in the forecast.
“I'm just making sure that I stayed in double digits,” Woods said of his thought process in the third round, when he was in near-total command and signed for a 5-under 67. At 11-under par (double digits), he’s tied with Tony Finau and two back of Francesco Molinari, arguably the hottest player in golf over the last 12 months.
They will play in the same group Sunday as the field tees off early from both tees in an attempt to avoid forecasted thunderstorms. Woods is attempting to win a major for the first time since the 2008 U.S. Open; a victory Sunday would mark his fifth Masters, one behind Jack Nicklaus, and 15th major overall, three behind Nicklaus.
He’s never won a major coming from behind, but in the four Masters that he’s reached 11 under or better through 54 holes, he’s won all four.
“It will be interesting to see if the wind comes up like the forecast,” he said. “Fifteen, 20 miles an hour around this golf course is going to be testy.”
Woods hit nine of 14 fairways, tied for his best this week, and 16 of 18 greens. He took 30 putts, and overcame a slow start in which he went 1 over for his first five holes.
He gave himself a talking to as he walked to the sixth tee.
“Just be patient,” he said he told himself. “Very simple. The golf course is certainly gettable, a lot of scores going out there. … Let the round build. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Finau, Webb Simpson (9 under, four back) and Patrick Cantlay (6 under) all shot 64s. On a day when the celebrities on the grounds included Alex Rodriguez and John Isner, the players at the 83rd Masters gave them plenty to watch. Woods kick-started his round with three straight birdies on holes 6-8, and added three more on Nos. 13, 15 and 16.
“I drove it well and hit my irons well,” he said. “I made some putts. Like I said, I just let the round just kind of build. And I don't need to go after every single flag. Just put the ball in the correct spots so I can have gettable looks and gettable putts.”
Now he’ll try to finish it off nearly 11 years since he last tasted major championship glory, with the instant-classic U.S. Open victory over Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines.
Will that ancient history help him? Woods isn’t leaning on it; he’s hoping to learn from more recent history. He shot a final-round 64 to finish second to Brooks Koepka at the most recent major, the PGA Championship. And at The Open Championship the month before that, Woods shot a final-round 71 to finish T6 when paired with eventual champion Molinari.
“It's been a while since I've been in contention here,” he said. “But then again, (being in the mix to win) the last two majors counts for something.”
Tiger hole-by-hole (Round 3)
ROUND 3 STATS: 9 of 14 fairways hit, 16 of 18 greens in regulation, 30 putts (no three-putts)
18 (par 4, 465 yards): Smashes 294-yard drive into the fairway, leaving only 164 yards to the pin at the uphill finishing hole. Slight pull on approach shot, ball winds up 35 feet left of pin. Two putts and he's got a closing par for a third-round 67. Poulter shoots 68 and has still never shot lower than Woods in the six times they've played together on TOUR. Woods is just a shot behind Molinari, who is still back on the course. (Overall: 11 under)
17 (par 4, 440 yards): Finds short grass yet again with 294-yard drive, eighth hit fairway in 13 chances. Has had good control today. With 154 yards remaining, hits one of his few mediocre shots today, his ball winding up 43 feet short of the pin. Has fallen into a tie for second with Molinari getting to 12 behind him, and a two-putt par leaves him one back. (Overall: 11 under)
16 (par 3, 160 yards): Not a very gettable pin placement, four paces from the right edge, but that doesn't dissuade Woods. His tee shot hits and sticks just inside seven feet from of the hole, giving himself a prime opportunity to roll in another birdie to tie for the lead. He converts to tie Finau and Molinari for the lead. (Overall: 11 under)
15 (par 5, 530 yards): Hits another fairway with 311-yard drive, but down the left side. Will he be blocked out? No, it turns out. With a clear look at the green, slightly overcooks second shot, ball ending up on the apron behind the green. Beautiful touch on his third shot as chip cozies up to two feet from the pin. Another birdie to pull to within just a shot of the lead, tied with Molinari and Schauffele. (Overall: 10 under)
14 (par 4, 440 yards): Woods hits his fifth fairway (of 10 chances) so far today, this time dialing back and settling for a 283-yard tee shot. Approach from 165 yards not a good one, though, coming up 37 feet short. Although he has made birdies here each of the first two days, Woods has little chance of that and two-putts for par. Up ahead of him, Finau has signed for a 64 and finished at 11 under. Woods still two back. (Overall: 9 under)
13 (par 5, 510 yards): Nearly turns easiest hole on the course into a disaster as hooks tee shot into trees, only to get a good break as the ball kicks out and remains playable. Hits a low, 160-yard hook around the trees, then skips his 69-yard third shot to six feet past the pin. Birdie putt catches the left edge. This could have been a bad hole, but it turns into a huge help as he moves back to just two behind Finau. (Overall: 9 under)
12 (par 3, 146 yards): With Finau getting to 11 under ahead of him, Woods is now three behind. Wedge shot flies a bit too far, settling 18 feet behind the pin. Overcast skies have given way to warm sunshine as Woods walks across Hogan Bridge, over Rae's Creek. He's been good from this range this week, but leaves birdie try just a few inches short. Easy par. (Overall: 8 under)
11 (par 4, 505 yards): Loses 341-yard tee shot right, but tells ball to go even farther right as it's in the air. Takes nature walk amid the Georgia pines, temporarily losing sight of caddie Joe LaCava, and discovers he's gotten his wish: The ball has come to rest in a clearing 156 yards from the pin. Hits a fine approach shot out of the trees to 33 feet behind the hole. Two-putt par. (Overall: 8 under)
10 (par 4, 495 yards): Hits 3-wood off tee and shapes perfectly for downhill, right-to-left fairway. Ball stops 303 yards away, leaving 187-yard approach. With Tony Finau first to reach 10 under well ahead, Woods is two back. Hits approach shot to fat of the green, leaving 23-foot birdie attempt. Birdie try burns the top edge of the cup and rolls two feet past. Taps in for par. (Overall: 8 under)
FRONT 9 STATS: 4 of 7 fairways hit, 7 of 9 greens in regulation, 15 putts
9 (par 4, 495 yards): First bad shot of the day, a wild right miss off the tee, comes on a hole where he's historically struggled to hit the fairway. From pine straw hits a bullet that winds up 35 yards short of the green. Gets out of trouble, though, with a pitch to three feet below the hole. Makes it for a par to shoot 2-under 34 on the front nine. Still one back. (Overall: 8 under)
8 (par 5, 570 yards): Splits fairway with a 314-yard beauty, leaving just 265 yards to the back pin location. Second shot, too, is on target, traveling 266 yards and settling just 11 feet from the pin. Primed to make his fourth career eagle on the eighth, Woods, alas, misses and taps in for his third straight birdie. He's back to just one off the lead, as he was to start the day. The other good news is it's his first red number on the hole after a par Thursday and bogey Friday. (Overall: 8 under)
7 (par 4, 450 yards): Phil Mickelson, playing up ahead, used a long iron here, but after first birdie of the day Woods swings driver and 309-yard tee shot splits the fairway. Still chomping on that gum (like Phil), still fighting course to a draw on these difficult first seven holes. Hits 147-yard approach shot to mere inches from the pin for a tap-in birdie, his second in a row. Now in red numbers on the day. (Overall: 7 under)
6 (par 3, 180 yards): With many others going low on moving day, Woods seems to be stuck in neutral. His tee shot soars over the pin but too long, leaving himself an 18-footer for birdie. Woods led the field in putting from outside 20 feet the first two days (5/15), and coaxes his left-to-right birdie effort into the cup for his first birdie of the day. He's back to even on the day. (Overall: 6 under)
5 (par 4, 495 yards): The hardest hole on the course, which he's bogeyed each of the first two days, Woods gets in trouble immediately, pulling his 293-yard drive into the yawning left bunker. With a huge lip in front of him he has no choice but to lay up with a lofted iron, his ball coming down 87 yards short of the green. Third shot winds up 21 feet short of pin, and he misses par try. Taps in for third bogey here in three days. He's now four back of Finau. (Overall: 5 under)
4 (par 3, 227 yards): Playing partner Ian Poulter has never beat Woods in the five times they've played together on the PGA TOUR. With both having started with three straight pars, both hit solid tee shots, Woods some 15 feet left of the pin. He narrowly misses his slight left-to-right birdie putt on the high side for his fourth straight par. With Tony Finau reaching 9 under ahead of him, Woods has gone from one behind to start the day to three behind. (Overall: 6 under)
3 (par 4, 350 yards): Driver down the right side of the fairway leaves a difficult angle to the left pin, with the green running away from him. Sure enough, pitch shot lands around the pin, but does not stop until it cozies up to the left fringe. Birdie effort breaks hard right and in front of the cup, leaving a tap-in par, his third straight par to begin the round. (Overall: 6 under)
2 (par 5, 575 yards): Woods, who hit just 7/14 fairways yesterday, misses fractionally to the right off the tee. Although he calls for the ball to move just one yard to the left, it bounds into the bunker, ruling out going for the green in two. He takes a mighty lash from 261 yards just to get the ball over the front lip, and leaves himself a 148-yard third shot. A conservative approach to well right of the left pin sets up a routine two-putt par. (Overall: 6 under)
1 (par 4, 445 yards): Woods shows up in a lavender mock T and gray slacks. He has had his issues with the opening hole at Augusta National, but splits the fairway with his drive but leaves his approach shot well short. (A common play amongst his fellow competitors on this hole today.) Putting uphill to the back pin location, he guns his first effort three feet past the pin, but makes the come-backer for a par. (Overall: 6 under)
TIGER’S PUTTING: Through the first two rounds, Tiger has been great from long range … and horrible from short range.
From outside 20 feet, Tiger ranks first in the field, making 5 of 15 attempts for a rate of 33.33%. No other player in the field has made more than three putts from that distance.
From inside 5 feet, however, Tiger has missed three of his 29 putts, leaving his conversion rate at 89.66%. Among the 65 players who made that cut, the only player with a worse percentage is amateur Alvaro Ortiz at 89.29%.
From 5-10 feet, though, Ortiz leads the field, making all eight of his attempts. Woods has missed four of his eight attempts (50%). Just 12 players have lower percentage rates than Tiger from that distance.
FAMILIAR PAIRING: Tiger is paired with Englishman Ian Poulter for the third round at the Masters for the second consecutive year. Both were well off the pace when they played together a year ago, with Tiger shooting an even-par 72 to end the round tied for 40th, while Poulter shot a 74 to drop into a tie for 50th at that point.
Saturday will be the sixth round that Woods and Poulter have been in the same group at a PGA TOUR event. The first time was at THE PLAYERS Championship in 2010 when they were in the same threesome for the first two rounds. The last time was at THE NORTHERN TRUST during last season’s FedExCup Playoffs. Four times, Woods has shot the better score, and the other time they recorded the same score.
RECENT SATURDAYS AT AUGUSTA: When Tiger won his last green jacket in 2005, he shot a 7-under 65 that moved him from six shots behind to three strokes ahead. That 65 tied for his lowest round in his Masters career – in fact, both of his 65s at Augusta National have happened in the third round. In his 10 starts since 2005, Tiger has shot in the 60s just twice in the third round, a 68 in 2008 and another 68 in 2015.
Cameron Morfit began covering the PGA TOUR with Sports Illustrated in 1997, and after a long stretch at Golf Magazine and golf.com joined PGATOUR.COM as a Staff Writer in 2016. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.