DORAL, Fla. — Graeme McDowell’s goal for the third round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship was to give himself a chance to win on Sunday.
At one point Saturday, his chances were looking good. Then Tiger Woods put McDowell and the rest of the 65-player field in his rear-view mirror.
Woods shot a 5-under-par 67 on the Blue Monster at Trump Doral for a 54-hole score of 18-under-par 198 and a 4-shot lead over McDowell going into the final round. McDowell, who started the day two shots behind Woods, shot 69 and was at 14-under 202.
Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker also shot 69 and were tied for third at 13 under. Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel, Keegan Bradley and Honda Classic winner Michael Thompson were all at 11 under.
Paired with Woods in the final group, McDowell was tied for the lead with his playing partner after seven holes.
That’s when Woods took charge, adding to his record-breaking birdie barrage, while McDowell “lost his way a little bit for four or five holes.” Only a chip-in eagle at the 311-yard par-4 16th for McDowell and a Woods drive that got stuck in a tree on 17, leading to a bogey, kept Woods from having an even bigger lead.
“After I made birdie on 15, I was looking pretty good with a 6-shot lead and a drivable par 4,” Woods said. “Two holes later, it’s now cut down to three.”
But Woods birdied the 18th hole — his seventh birdie of the day and the 24th of his tournament, the most he’s ever had through three rounds — to leave his pursuers wondering how they can possibly overtake him.
History is not on their side. Of the 54 times Woods has held or been tied for the third-round lead, he has gone on to win 50 times, including 19 of his last 20.
“Tiger played fantastic,” McDowell said. “He’s going to be a tough guy to catch.”
The wind was blowing 10-15 mph and the already firm greens got firmer. McDowell and several others said their only hope is that it blows harder on Sunday. As if Woods doesn’t know how to play in the wind.
“I’ve won a few tournaments in the wind,” Woods said with a smile. “I think that if you’re coming from behind, it’s always nice to have tougher conditions. But when you’ve got the nice lead, it’s nice to have tougher conditions and you can make a bunch of pars.
“This golf course is getting tricky. The greens are so hard, so fast, and the downwind, downhill, downgrain putts are just unbelievable. The ball just never stops rolling. I had a couple of putts that I thought I made and the wind blew the ball out of the hole and it’s going to do that same thing tomorrow.”
Woods, who got a putting lesson from Stricker on Wednesday, needed only 25 putts Saturday and had 11 one-putt greens. The rest of his game also is back on track.
The key, said Woods, is that he’s finally healthy, having overcome knee and Achilles tendon injuries. That has allowed him to fine-tune his swing and also work more on his short game.
McDowell did his best to put pressure on Woods, reaching the 517-yard par-5 first hole in two and sinking a 19-foot putt for eagle to get to 13 under and he birdied No. 3 to move to 14 under. Woods responded by birdieing each of the first three holes to maintain his two-shot lead.
McDowell pulled even when Woods bogeyed No. 5 and McDowell birdied No. 6.
Woods regained the lead on the par-5 8th when he hit his third shot to 3 feet and rolled in the birdie putt and McDowell made a par.
The 537-yard par-5 10th was the beginning of McDowell’s troubles.
After driving right into heavy rough, Woods laid up with his second shot, then hit his 101-yard third shot 6 feet from the pin. McDowell reached the green in two and rolled his 42-foot eagle putt 4 feet past the hole.
After Woods made his birdie putt to go to 17 under, McDowell missed his, giving Woods a two-shot advantage.
“That three-putt on 10 kind of rattled me a little bit because Tiger didn’t look like he was going to do anything wrong,” McDowell said.
McDowell made his first bogey of the tournament at No. 11 and double-bogeyed 14 when he missed the green, chunked a chip and failed to get up and down.