Tiger Woods chose the third round of the British Open on Saturday to produce one of his best rounds of golf in a decade and climb right into contention on a packed leaderboard at Carnoustie.
The 42-year-old has not won a major since 2008, his career stalling due to personal problems and fitness issues, but there had been a feeling that he could compete for the Claret Jug this weekend and his third-round 66 leaves him in with a chance at five under par overall.
Followed around the Scottish links by huge crowds and a circus of journalists and photographers, the 14-time major winner was at one point in a share of the lead after claiming a sixth birdie of the day at the 14th hole.
He lost some momentum with a bogey at the short 16th but had luck on his side at the last when his drive landed a foot away from the Barry Burn only to bounce away from the water to the relative safety of the long grass — he then salvaged a par after a tremendous approach shot.
“That was good. I played well today. I really did. I hit a lot of good shots. I really didn’t feel like I really made a bad swing until 18,” he said.
“I really felt like I had control of the golf ball today. And on top of that, I made some longer putts, which was nice.”
The problem for Woods is that he is just one of at least 20 players who will consider themselves contenders to dethrone Jordan Spieth, last year’s Open winner at Royal Birkdale.
Indeed, Spieth is right in the mix himself, along with fellow Americans Kevin Kisner and Zach Johnson, who shared the overnight lead on six under par.
They did not go out until 4pm local time (1500 GMT), meaning that the Carnoustie galleries could expect more twists and turns well into a fine summer’s evening on Scotland’s North Sea coast.
Shortly after Woods finished his round, Italy’s Francesco Molinari seized the clubhouse lead on six under par after a superb, bogey-free round of 65.
“I’m really happy with where I am at the moment. I know tomorrow is going to be a different story. Now it’s all about getting ready for that,” said Molinari, who won the PGA Championship at Wentworth in late May.
Molinari is mindful of an expected change in the weather conditions for the last day, with the wind that can be so damaging in these parts finally expected to make its presence felt.
– Rose makes hay –
As good as his round was, it was bettered earlier on Saturday by Justin Rose, the Englishman producing his best ever round in a major to appear on the leaderboard.
His seven-under-par 64 equalled the lowest round in an Open at Carnoustie set by Steve Stricker and Richard Green here in 2007 and left him at four-under for the championship.
Rose’s blemish-free effort was capped by birdies at the last two holes, including one after a stunning approach shot onto the 18th green.
It was not quite good enough to trouble Tommy Fleetwood’s overall course record of 63, set last year at the Dunhill Championship, but it allowed him to retain some hope of becoming the first English winner of the Claret Jug since Nick Faldo in 1992.
“I felt like it was a typical set-up for a moving day today. So it was nice to make that move,” said the 37-year-old, who only made the cut thanks to a birdie at the last on Friday.
Among others taking advantage of the benign conditions on Saturday was German veteran Bernhard Langer — now aged 60, the two-time former Masters champion had a three-under-par 68 to sit at one-under for the championship.