Tiger Woods hit a tee shot that got stuck in a palm tree. That’s about the only thing that didn’t fall his way Saturday in the Cadillac Championship.
Woods made seven more birdies on the Blue Monster at Doral, the last one from 15 feet on the 18th hole that gave him a 5-under 67 and a four-shot lead over Graeme McDowell heading into the final round.
Woods has made 24 birdies and taken only 74 putts through three rounds, both personal bests in his PGA Tour career.
It put him in great position to win his 17th career World Golf Championship, and his first since 2009.
He has a 39-2 record when he has the outright lead going into the final round on the PGA Tour. The only time he has ever lost a lead of more than two shots was in 2010 against an 18-man field at the Chevron World Challenge, when McDowell beat him in a playoff.
McDowell was six shots out of the lead with three holes to play when he tried to keep it close. His drive on the 16th finished just over the green, and he chipped in for eagle. He picked up another shot on the 17th when Woods’ tee shot embedded high into the trunk of a palm tree. Once his ball was identified, he took a penalty drop and made bogey.
The lead was down to three shots, but not for long.
“After I made birdie on 15, I was looking pretty good with a six-shot lead, and with a drivable par 4,” Woods said. “Two holes later, it’s now cut down to three. I piped a tee shot down there, hit a little 9-iron there and was able to pour that putt in there.”
Woods made birdie to reach 18-under 198, and McDowell did well to stay only four shots behind with a two-putt from 85 feet away. That gave him a 69, and another date with Woods in the final group at Doral.
Phil Mickelson, who badly wanted to get into the final group, overcame a three-putt from 4 feet for double bogey on the third hole by making four birdies the rest of the way. He had a 69, along with Steve Stricker, and both were five shots behind.
A year ago, Mickelson shot 64 in the final round to win at Pebble Beach while playing in the same group with Woods.
Rory McIlroy, the world’s No. 1 player, had a rough start until rallying on the back nine with five birdies in a six-hole stretch that carried him to a 71. He was 15 shots behind.
Woods used to own these WGC events, winning 16 of the first 30 that he played. He has gone 0-for-10 since Firestone in August 2009, though the odds were stacked in his favor at the Cadillac Championship. He already is a three-time winner at Doral, and he has been putting well ever since Stricker gave him a tip on the eve of the tournament.
“You know what kind of closer he is,” Stricker said. “When he gets the lead in a golf tournament, it’s tough. He doesn’t let too many guys in usually when he gets the lead. We’ve all got our work cut out for us. We’re going to have to go out and try to make birdies on a difficult golf course, which is hard to do.”