Tiger Woods shot a 4-under 67 on Saturday in Round 3 of the 2018 Valspar Championship. After going out in 33 and grabbing a share of the lead , Woods shot a 34 on the back nine but trails leader Corey Conners by one stroke going into Sunday.
Woods' 67 included five birdies, one bogey and statistically was the best round he's fired in 2018. He's tied for second with Justin Rose and Brandt Snedeker at 8 under, while Conners is in at 9 under after firing a 3-under 68.
Big Cat got it going early with a long birdie at No. 3, an easy one at No. 5 and then that ridiculous hole-out on No. 9. It continued on No. 10 where he made a 22-footer before dropping a shot on the par-3 13th. Woods got that back on No. 14, though, with a kick-in birdie on a 577-yard par 5. He parred in for the 67.
Woods will go out late on Sunday, although not in the final pairing, which will feature Rose and Conners. Woods will be going for his first win on the PGA Tour since 2013 (more on that below).
He's certainly shown how sharp every aspect of his game is right now. Woods is currently second in strokes gained from tee to green, third in strokes gained around the green and 26th in putting. He buried birdies of 22 feet and 21 feet to go along with his chip-in.
Woods' year has been building to this, though nobody thought a win would be in play this early in his latest comeback. The last time he contended at a tournament was in 2015 at the Wyndham Championship. That's changed this week, and we could be talking about victory No. 80 come this time on Sunday.
Here are five takeaways from Woods' third round.
1. The roars thundered: I'd almost forgotten how frenetic an in-the-mix Tiger Woods round on the weekend actually is. There was a terrific moment on the 12th hole when Woods hit his approach shot over the pin and let it trickle back to the cup, eventually resting eight feet away.
The building crescendo as the ball slowly came back towards him and away from the patrons was mesmerizing. He missed the eight-foot birdie putt, but if that hole and that moment are a foreshadowing for what we're getting all year, then sign me up for all of it and charge me whatever you want.
"We had a good time," Woods told Steve Sands of NBC after his round. "The environment was incredible. The people were into it. I played, Sneds (Brandt Snedeker) played well. The people really got entertained today."
2. Could have been 65 (!): Woods shot a 67, but wow could it have been better than that. Despite making five birdies, he missed birdie putts of 18 feet, 18 feet, 8 feet and 7 feet. The latter two came on holes Nos. 11 and (the aforementioned) 12. I had tweets in the queue and volunteers no doubt had their hands on the buttons operating the scoreboards at this event to push Woods one deeper and closer to the lead.
Alas, despite rolling in lengthy birds of 22 feet and 20 feet, Woods might want Nos. 12 and 13 back at the end of the week.
3. That swing speed: At the Honda Classic, Woods' move at the ball nearly caused a riot. He hit 128 MPH on the speedometer. This week? Yeah, he eclipsed that with this drive on No. 14. It was -- hear me out -- the fastest swing recorded by any golfer on the PGA Tour this year.
The man had a spine fusion less than 12 months ago!
Tiger Woods: club head speed measured at 129.2 MPH on 14th hole (fastest swing recorded by any player on PGA Tour this season).— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) March 10, 2018
4. Chipping was unreal: Remember three years ago at this time when Woods took a hiatus to work on his yippy chipping? That feels like 30 years ago. Woods has gained around four strokes on the field around the greens this week, which is top five in the field. The one that will get all the headlines is his chip-in on No. 9 to tie for the lead going to the back nine, but it was one of many. He had crisp chips on Nos. 4, 5, 6, and a sand-save bogey on No. 13 that were all magical.
All of this short game work led to the second straight day of him needing to make just 28 feet, 6 inches worth of par putts (12 total). Stress-free golf earns you late Sunday tee times at Innisbrook.
5. Can he close? Of course he can close, but will he? That's the question that will be on everyone's minds heading into the final round on Sunday. Woods is the Vegas favorite at 2-1, and his record in this very scenario -- tied for second or better going into Sunday -- is unassailable. Sunday should be fascinating with Woods, Rose and Snedeker trying to run down Conners, who is playing just his 21st PGA Tour event.
"Loud. Very, very loud," Woods told NBC of the crowds. "The people here in Tampa are really into it. It's been incredible. They've been so nice and have just been into this event. I've played myself right there in contention. It'll be a fun Sunday."
Oh yeah, yeah it will.
This will be the 70th time Tiger Woods is at/within 1 of the lead after 54 holes on the PGA Tour. He has gone on to win 62 of the previous 69 instances (win percentage of 89.9). He's never finished outside the top-5.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) March 10, 2018