ATLANTA – Tiger Woods will carry a three-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose into the final round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta after equaling the low round of the tournament with a 5-under-par 65 on Saturday.
Woods, who has never blown a 54-hole lead of three or more strokes, will be paired with McIlroy on Sunday after the Northern Irishman shot 4 under. Woods sits at 12-under 198, with McIlroy and Rose each at 9-under 201.
Rose, who will be paired with Kyle Stanley, is tied with Spain’s Jon Rahm for fourth at 6 under. Rose shot a 68 on Saturday, and Stanley carded a 67.
“I would love to be able to win this event,” Woods said. “I’ve got a three-shot lead. I’ve got a bunch of guys behind me who have been playing well and are playing well. We’ll see what happens (Sunday).”
After holding a share of the lead following each of the first two rounds, Woods got off to a great start Saturday, birdieing six of the first seven holes, including five in a row from No. 3 to No. 7.
He made it look easy on the six birdies. There was a 22-foot putt at No. 1, an 8-footer at No. 3, a 21-footer at No. 4 and close ones at No. 5 (7 feet), No. 6 (6 feet) and No. 7 (5 feet).
“I felt hot early, for sure,” Woods said after his round. “I was hitting it absolutely dead flush. The putts I was hitting were going in.”
The rest of his round was relatively quiet, as he made bogeys at No. 9 and No. 16 and a birdie at No. 12. Woods also shot 65 in Round 1 on Thursday, a figure only three other players in the field (Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel and Patrick Cantlay) have reached.
Woods is trying to earn his first victory since 2013. During this year’s return to form, Woods has come close — he was second at the PGA and had the lead for an instant at the Open Championship. A win would be the 80th of his career, his third Tour Championship title, the second at East Lake.
Rose, who was paired with Woods on Saturday, certainly heard the roars for the American favorite.
“Obviously I was aware of it,” Rose said. “The crowds were electric because of it. He was running the tables there. He was hitting good shots and making the conversion putts.”
McIlroy notched back-to-back birdies at Nos. 2 and 3 before a bogey at the seventh, but he put together a 3-under 32 on the back nine, including birdies at Nos. 16 and 18 to cap his round.
Rose, who began the day tied for the lead with Woods at 7 under, began with a pair of bogeys but bounced back quickly by birdieing three of his next four holes. He added two more birdies and a bogey on the back to finish 2 under for the day.
One stroke behind Stanley and Rahm are Tony Finau, Billy Horschel and England’s Paul Casey, who equaled McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau for the second-best round of the day at 4 under.
Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas are another stroke back, among five tied for ninth at 4 under for the tournament.
Woods, who qualified for the Tour Championship for the first time in five years, is currently projected to finish second in the FedEx Cup, as he needs to win this week and get some help to emerge with the $10 million prize.
For Woods to win the FedEx Cup, Rose would have to finish in a three-way tie for fifth or worse, Finau tie for third or worse, Johnson and Thomas finish in a three-way tie for second or worse and Keegan Bradley — who is tied for 27th at 5 over — finish tied for second or worse.
Woods began the week 20th in the standings. He is the only two-time FedEx Cup champion, claiming the honor in 2007 and 2009.
“It’s going to be fun,” Woods said of the Sunday pairing with McIlroy. “We haven’t done that much of late because I’ve not been there. He has been there, and he’s won a bunch of tournaments. So it’s nice for us to go back out and play against one another, be in the mix.
McIlroy said, “It’s difficult, because he’s a notoriously great front-runner, but if I go out and I play similar like I did today, I’ll have no complaints. I’ll put the blinkers on and just worry about myself.”
–Field Level Media