History tells us the 2013 Cadillac Championship is over, that when Tiger Woods takes a four-shot lead into the final round, everybody else is playing for second.
For now at least, Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell and Steve Stricker aren’t ready to concede anything.
Woods continued his remarkable run Saturday, posting another seven birdies to give him a career-best 24 through 54 holes on his way to a 5-under-par 67, giving him a three-round total of 198, the lowest the event has had since it moved to the Blue Monster in 2007.
Already two shots ahead of McDowell and three clear of Mickelson and Stricker when the day began, he put another two shots between himself and his pursuers and is in position to turn a 54-hole lead into a victory in this event for the sixth time in as many tries.
“I’m going to have to (shoot) something in the low 60s to have a shot,” admitted Mickelson, who, like McDowell and Stricker, could manage only a 69 on Saturday in conditions only marginally tougher than the first two days of the event.
Whatever you want to call it — the Blue Monster or the freshly renamed Trump Doral Resort — the par-72 track is becoming one of Woods’ favorites. A win today would be his seventh on the course, tying it with Bay Hill in Orlando, Torrey Pines in San Diego and Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
“I’m finally healthy, and that has a lot to do with it,” Woods said in explaining his return to form as he pursues his second win of the season and 76th of his career.
“I’m able to make changes with (coach) Sean (Foley), and those have pretty much been implemented. We’re just making fine tunes; each and every day you have little, bitty adjustments, but the major overhauls are done and now I have more time to dedicate to my short game. That’s allowed me to win some tournaments last year, and obviously at Torrey this year.”
Paired with McDowell, Woods did get some competition early. McDowell eagled the first hole and then pulled into a tie for first place when Woods bogeyed No. 5 and McDowell birdied No. 6. Birdies at Nos. 9 and 10 restored Woods’ two-shot advantage, however, and McDowell’s first bogey of the tournament at No. 11 stretched the difference to three.
When McDowell double-bogeyed No. 14, Woods’ lead was five and a runaway seemed possible.
“(For) three or four holes there, (there) was a little bit of a lack of focus, just trying to force the ball into the hole, couldn’t make a putt,” McDowell said.
After being rock-steady all day, Woods gave his pursuers a bit of a break when his drive at 17 lodged in a tree, leading to bogey. But he bounced back to sink a 16-foot birdie putt at 18.
“Tiger played fantastic,” McDowell said. “All respect to the way he handled himself and the way he played. He’s going to be tough to catch.”
McDowell demonstrated some character in his own right in his last three holes, first moving back in front of Mickelson and Stricker by chipping in for eagle at 15, and then assuring he will be in the final group with Woods again today when he was able to two-putt from 85 feet at 18. Woods and McDowell have the final tee time at 2:40 p.m.
McDowell, Mickelson and everyone else in the chase pack agreed that if they have a chance, the wind will have to blow. Woods wasn’t buying it.
“I’ve won a few tournaments in the wind,” he said. “If you’re coming from behind, it’s always nicer to have tougher conditions. But also, when you’ve got the nice lead, it’s nice to have tougher conditions and you can make a bunch of pars. We’ll see how this course is playing.”
Mickelson, whose only significant misstep was a double-bogey at No. 3 that he offset with five birdies, found reasons to remain hopeful.
“There were shots out there that could have brought it down to the score I need for (today),” Mickelson said. “It’s a course where you can make a lot of pars, but it’s not always easy to make birdies when you have to.”
And as much as Mickelson had wanted to play with Woods in the final group, he said it could be a blessing he’ll be with Stricker in the one just ahead.
“There have been so many times, here at Doral especially, where the winner has come from the group one or two in front of the leaders. If we can get off to a hot start, like I said, it’s tough to follow suit. It’s tough when you have to make birdies, (but) not as hard to make them first.”