Johnson holds off inspired Woods

Tiger Woods is back. The real Tiger Woods, that is. It was impossible to look at it any other way as the world No 1 turned in a performance yesterday which ranked right up there with his best and his gutsiest. A 66 took him to one-under and into third place, five behind the leader Dustin Johnson and two behind Graeme McDowell in second.

Yet the bare stats don’t begin to tell the whole story of his Resurrection Saturday. He started it seven off McDowell and five off his nemesis, Phil Mickelson (who had shot his own 66 on Friday). Not only that but two bogeys in the first three holes left him nine behind. At the stage he was in among the dead men, seemingly still plagued by the personal shame. But then he sprang into life, playing the next 16 holes in seven-under.

Three birdies in three holes from the fourth hinted of the fireworks to come, Except another bogey on the eight led him to turn at four-over. It was here where the old Tiger juices began to flow again. He came back in a five-under 31, an almost unthinkable number on the inward nine. The putts dropped and soon the jaws of the gallery followed suit. But it was on the final three holes where his renewed magnificence truly sent the mind back to a time before the sex scandal.

On the 16th, a 20-footer was greeted by a fist pump and on the demanding par-three 17th, he holed a 15-footer down the hill which had at least seven-foot of break. He marched to the 18th tee and drove across Stillwater Cove with the cheers still ringing loud. Yet his approach to the par five was seemingly blocked out by a tree in the middle of the fairway. No problem. Woods somehow managed to evade the branches and so faded a three-wood on to the green some 250 yards away. It was classic Tiger as was the celebration with his caddie, Steve Williams.

Perhaps in his most dominant days he would have holed the eagle putt; but nobody could moan. Certainly not the grandstand who roared for the fallen hero louder than any crowd has since his comeback two months ago. In truth, there was plenty on his scorecard to warrant the frenzy. On the first two days Woods managed just three birdies; yesterday he conjured eight, finally finding the secret to the poa annua which he criticised so severely and so inadvisably on the first day. In doing so Woods leapt up from a tie for 25th. His matter-of-fact statement afterwards did not begin to do his own heroics justice.

“I was just trying to get back to even par or one-over for the championship - I managed to do something better than that,” said Woods when asked what his game-plan was after his nightmare start. “I told myself this is the US Open just keep hanging in there. It’s a long haul.”

Woods was wise not to get too carried away. After all, he has never won a major when behind after three rounds. At least he has Mickelson in his wing mirror, the player who has beaten him in the last six tournaments in which the pair have both played. The left-hander’s 73 meant there was a seven-shot swing yesterday, although on one-over par the Masters champion is not quite out of it. There is so much to play for today, other than majors and millions. Mickelson could usurp Woods as world No 1.

But he will have to leapfrog not only Woods, but France’s Gregory Havret on level par. And then he would still have to find a way past Johnson and McDowell, which will be no easy task on the evidence of yesterday. Johnson looked ominously relaxed - on the course which he should really refer to as “home“ - in his own 66 to move to six-under. A huge hitter - who Woods refers to as “stupid long“ - Johnson clearly has as a rich future and nobody here will be surprised if it is realised today.

McDowell began like a man inspired, birdieing the first two and at the stage had extended his overnight advantage to four. But Johnson knows what it takes at Pebble Beach - having won the last two AT&T Pro-Ams to be played here - and was soon on terms thanks in large part to an eagle on the drivable par-four fourth. From there the final grouping pulled themselves along, holding a number of clutch putts.

Alas, there were slip-ups down the stretch for McDowell when he bogeyed the 16th and 17th. But otherwise it was a commendable stuff, particularly as Johnson is about six inches taller and 40 yards longer off the tee. McDowell’s win two weeks ago in Wales has plainly imbued him with the confidence he needed and there has been a swagger this week which suggests he believes he could become the first European winner of this trophy in 40 years. The 30-year-old is in the mix and what a mix it is.

Could Woods really shake off all that rust and ridicule to win another US Open at the scene of his most impressive success a decade ago? This spectacular links was agog with the possibility last night.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor