Tiger Woods pumps his fist after one of his seven birdies in Saturday’s third round in Doral, Fla.
MIAMI — An on-fire Tiger Woods will take a four-stroke lead over Graeme McDowell into today’s final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship after shooting a five-under-par 67 at Doral on Saturday.
Woods, searching for his 76th PGA Tour victory and second this year, finished his third round in style with a 16-foot birdie putt on the 18th, highlighting his outstanding work on the greens so far in the tournament.
The 14-times major winner finished the day at 18-under for a 198 total, while McDowell’s three-under par 69 put him 14-under at 202.
The debate over whether Woods is back to his true form will not be over until he wins a major championship again, but following this display he will be the favorite, on form and not just reputation, at the Masters next month.
Woods, who won in January at Torrey Pines, has made 24 birdies through 54 holes — a personal record at this stage in a tournament, and he has never lost a final round where he has led by three or more strokes.
“He putted fantastically today,” said playing partner McDowell.
“He controlled every part of his game very well, very few loose shots. He’s going to be a tough man to catch (today).”
Woods, who started with a two-stroke lead over McDowell, began his round in blistering fashion by collecting birdies on his first three holes and added four more before heading to the clubhouse with only two blemishes on his card, a bogey on the fifth and on the 17th.
The bogey on the penultimate hole came courtesy of a freak incident where his ball stuck in the top of a palm tree, forcing him to take unplayable lie and a penalty stroke.
Woods was powerful and mostly accurate off the tee but also was outstanding with his short irons.
“I’m hitting the ball further and it is just about adjustments. I had to re-establish the new numbers and new feels and it took a little bit of time and I worked on it. It is starting to pay off,” said the world number two.
McDowell, also striding the course in confidence, made an equally lightning start with an eagle on the first and a birdie on the third, reaching the turn at four-under.
The Northern Irishman lost his momentum with a bogey on the 11th and a double on the 14th, where he got in trouble in the rough.
The 2010 U.S. Open winner bounced back though with a superb eagle on the par-four 16th, where he drove over the back of the green and then superbly chipped in from 22 feet.
Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker are both five shots off the lead, tied for third place, after shooting rounds of 69.
Mickelson had hoped for a final round pairing with Woods and a chance to avenge him for the defeat in the ‘Duel at Doral’ in the 2005 Ford Open but he still believes he can catch his old rival.
“I’m going to have to play a really incredible round on Sunday but I really don’t have to play that different than I played today,” said Mickelson. “I threw away five or six shots on and around the greens. I just can’t afford to give away those shots.”
Stricker, who gave putting lessons to Woods on the eve of this tournament, may privately wonder if that was the best-timed gesture and he conceded that Woods looks hard to budge.
“You know what kind of closer he is. When he gets a lead in a tournament it is tough. He doesn’t let too many guys in usually,” said Stricker.
World number one Rory McIlroy made six birdies as he recovered from a poor start of a bogey on the third and a double-bogey on the next hole.
McIlroy, still feeling his way back to form after intensive work on his swing, carded a one-under 71 and is three-under for the tournament, 15 strokes behind Woods and tied in 30th place.