Inspired Tiger Woods finds top gear on East Lake front-nine
Victory drought could finally be ending
Sky Sports Golf, 5.30pm Sunday
Story so far
Tiger Woods was in vintage form in the early stages of round three at East Lake, the 14-times Major champion opening with five consecutive threes and going six under par through seven holes of his round, frontrunning from the off.
Woods exploded from the gates on Saturday, moving from a share of the lead to clear at the top, but he was one over par for the final 11 holes to encourage the chasing pack. Boarding the 16th tee, the resurgent former world number one held a five-shot advantage, but that hole has proved problematic for him this week and he ended up only three shots ahead.
Woods, 20-1 when Tour Championship prices were first issued in the wake of the BMW Championship, before being backed into 12-1 on tournament-eve, is a general 4-7 chance to convert his lead into a third Tour Championship triumph.
Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose are tied for second place, with a further three-shot gap to those in fourth. Rose, second in the FedEx Cup standings, is in with a golden chance of winning that prize. FedEx leader Bryson DeChambeau is tied for 21st at East Lake, opening the door for Rose.
-12 Tiger Woods
-9 Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose
-6 Kyle Stanley, Jon Rahm
-5 Paul Casey, Tony Finau, Billy Horschel
4-7 T Woods, 4 R McIlroy, 9-2 J Rose, 55 J Rahm, 100 K Stanley, 160 bar
Tiger Woods provided a masterclass over the first seven holes of round three, looking like the boss of the US Tour once again, making the hairs stand up on the neck of his army of supporters.
It was golf of the highest quality, making mincemeat of one of the toughest tracks on the circuit, and Woods was threatening to turn the tournament into a procession. He used to win so many events by enormous margins – was this going to be another?
Disappointingly for his backers, the concentration and emotional investment of those first seven holes seemed to hit Woods in the baking Georgia conditions from the ninth onwards, the great man looking mentally shattered in the closing stages of the round.
Woods is obviously still in a fantastic position, but the five-shot lead he carried up the 16th was significantly more comfortable than the three-shot one he ended up with. The 16th hole has been his nemesis this week and he will not want to be heading to there on Sunday without a couple of shots to play with.
The overnight rest and the extra levels of adrenaline which are sure to course through his veins when he slips on the red shirt for Sunday should see the spring return to the step of Woods at the start of round four. And the crowd should assist. Ticket sales rose 170 percent at East Lake from last year thanks to the return of Tiger and the galleries crave only one result. It helps that the Ryder Cup is next week and his two most serious rivals – Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose – are European. Expect increasingly partisan backing for Woods in Atlanta during the final round.
Woods backers should be on good terms with themselves. A victory drought stretching back to August, 2013, seems set to be ending, and the 12-1 Racing Post Sport pre-tournament headline selection is in command. The current price of 4-7 accurately reflects the chances of Tiger success.
McIlroy has been poor when teeing off in final pairings this year. The BMW Championship last time out was the fifth time this year he has played in the final group and every time he has gone backwards. The Sunday 74 at Augusta was the most disappointing.
Rose has finished second in the previous two FedEx Cup playoff events, and he has twice finished runner-up in the Tour Championship, so some seconditis is in his system. Runner-up honours at East Lake seem set to deliver the FedEx Cup, so the Englishman may not be taking too many risks in his bid to catch Woods.
Tiger winning, with Rose second and McIlroy third is the tricast prediction, while final-round twoball punters are pointed towards Keegan Bradley (4.55pm), who lies sixth in the FedEx Cup standings, plays tough courses well, and will be determined to finish as high as he can in both the tournament and the Cup before taking some time off.
Bradley's playing partner, Bubba Watson, probably has one eye on next week's Ryder Cup and is less suited to the East Lake grind. Bradley won the last FedEx playoff event and can finish this one strongly. He closed with four birdies in his final seven holes of round three.
Sunshine and hardly any wind is the forecast for Sunday. The final pairing of Woods and McIlroy is scheduled off at 7.05pm UK and Ireland time.
3pts 11-10 general
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