Delighted Tiger Woods hits his stride in Masters build-up

 

doral

For all his major championships, 14, and PGA tour victories, 75, Tiger Woods has never before breached 22 birdies in three rounds. That is until he racked up another seven at the WGC-Cadillac Championship here yesterday to add to the 17 he drained in the opening two.

So, at the age of 37, and with a resume second only to one, Jack Nicklaus, Woods breaks new ground here. He even left a ball in a palm tree at the penultimate hole, which cost him a one-shot penalty, and still signed for a 67. Given that he began his third round like a comet, posting a hat-trick of birdies first up, a four-shot lead going into the final round today might be interpreted as underachievement.

Woods claims to be hitting it further than he ever has and the evidence of a career-low 75 putts in 54 holes points to the re-establishing of lethal habits on the greens. Victory today would take his total of WGC wins to 17 and shorten the odds still further for the Masters. Woods has never surrendered a lead of such magnitude on a Sunday. Yes, the world of golf is in full Tiger hype mode, an orientation that will not alter in the run-up to Augusta.

"I'm excited about the way I'm playing, hitting the ball well and making some putts," Woods said. "I'm hitting the ball so much further. I haven't hit my irons this far ever. I've had to make some adjustments on my distance control but all the hard work has paid off. We will see how the course plays tomorrow, see how fiery it is. The wind picked up today and the greens dried out. It is nice to have a lead in tricky conditions."

Two eagles, one at the first, the second a chip-in at 16, helped keep Graeme McDowell in the final group with Woods after a 69. "He was very impressive," McDowell said of Woods. "Just very, very solid, controlling his golf ball like he did when he was winning his 14 majors."

Behind them, one shot further back, lurks Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker. Rory McIlroy's renaissance continued with a 71, an eventful round that included five birdies in six holes on the back nine and, for the second successive day, a three-putt at the last.

McIlroy fairly skipped into the weekend buoyed by the sight of a golf ball behaving as he intended. He admitted that his confidence had never been as low as it was last week and was relieved to have turned a corner. "I had a really good range session and felt like I hit the ball better. I saw a lot of positives. You go through these periods in golf where you have a tough time and things don't click. It would be great if it wasn't like that and would make the game a lot easier, but I saw a lot of good signs which shows that I'm going in the right direction."

His routing at Doral saw him paired yesterday with Ernie Els, his playing partner on that fateful afternoon nine days ago when he walked out of the Honda Classic halfway through his second round. The mood was noticeably lighter than the last time they met, with plenty of banter before the start of their round.

McIlroy went first, producing a fine strike that ended a little unluckily on a downslope in the first cut where the fairway narrows to its smallest. He still had a putt for birdie. At the second McIlroy hit a free-flowing three-wood down the left side. Though his approach held up in the wind, dropping marginally short of the putting surface, he chipped dead for par.

Another peach of a drive at the third validated McIlroy's sense of improvement. The test would come with the first mistake. It was imminent. The wind was getting up. He hit his approach clean but with too much club. His ball caught the side of the green and rolled away into the greenside valley. Frustration quickly resurfaced. A deep breath would have helped. Instead McIlroy rushed the chip, leaving it short of the green. A bogey out of nothing, yet out of everything, was the result.

He carried that disappointment to the fourth, a 220-yard par-three with water hooking around the green from the right. McIlroy found it, his tee shot landing marginally the wrong side of the banking and sliding inexorably into the drink. Playing three and clearly raging, he duffed another chip and missed his bogey putt for a double. Three shots gone in two holes and carelessness at the root of the problem.

What Els would have given for McIlroy's grandeur with a driver in his hand. He barely found a fairway on the outward nine and was forced into envious cries of "beauty" as McIlroy repeatedly aced the ether. He creamed another at five but was long with his approach. At the sixth he finally capitalised, hitting his iron to eight feet and sinking the putt for a first birdie for the round. Sometime soon McIlroy will put it all together and mulch the field in a big one. Until that moment is upon us, buckle your seat belt.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
film
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
News
peopleWarning - contains a lot of swearing
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project