The pack fall in line behind Tiger

On and off course, the world No 1 leads his pursuers a dance as he seeks first win since July
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The Independent Online

Tiger Woods' work is never done. Having battled the Crabapple Course at the Capital City Club on Friday for five hours, he was then faced with the challenge of a Swedish journalist. The world No 1 dealt with him as he had the course, which is to say particularly well.

The line of questioning concerned Barbara Nordegren, who as well as being the mother of Tiger's girlfriend, Elin, is to become Sweden's Minister for Immigration. "I have a question about your future mother-in-law," the reporter started. "He knows more than I do," Woods replied, smiling broadly.

It turned out Tiger had heard the news even before the Swedish media. "Yes, I have an inside, you know," Woods said. "We talked yesterday. It's a great move for her and her family. Obviously, it's a very difficult position but she's looking forward to the challenge." Woods spent last Christmas in Sweden being chased around by the local paparazzi, which is more than the best golfers in the world can often manage when Tiger sprints ahead of the field as he did here, or at least he was until he racked up a double bogey on the 16th hole of the third round yesterday.

Birdies at the third and the sixth, both par threes, followed by another at the short par-four seventh, where his 330-yard drive finished in the bunker in front of the green, put Woods at 10 under par. He was six shots clear then, but two bogeys in the next four holes combined with Vijay Singh's four birdies in a row from the ninth brought the Fijian within a shot.

Woods then went four clear again with birdies at the 12th and 13th as Singh dropped a shot at the 14th. Singh's birdie-bogey finish left him with a best-of-the-week round of 64 while Woods, after twice finding sand on the 16th, holed from eight feet to stay two shots clear going into today's final round.

"It was a pleasant surprise to see I was still two ahead because I knew at the time if I had missed that putt on 16 I would have been tied with Vijay," Woods, who had been five clear at the start of the round, said. Today he will play alongside Singh, the leader of the US money list. "It's going to be a lot of fun," he said.

Though there was the odd wobble yesterday, Tiger's 66 on Friday was quite a round as he was the only player not to be frazzled by the combination of thick Bermuda rough and rock-hard greens. As measured by the average score of 74, four over par, for the 72-man field, the second round was the sixth toughest day on the US Tour this year, and the hardest outside the majors.

The routine of Woods charging ahead is familiar, though it is a sight that has not been spotted for a while. His last victory came in July and is his only one since March. After a month off the circuit, Tiger has returned refreshed with the disappointments of the majors firmly in the past. Of the last 37 occasions Woods has led after three rounds, he has won 33. He simply loves being the front-runner. "It's awfully nice to be in front," he said. "It's not easy when guys are coming at you, but you have those shots to play with. I'd much rather be in front than trying to make up shots.

"If someone is making birdies ahead, then you can always say you've still got those holes to play. What's the worst thing that is going to happen? You lose. You are either going to win or lose. It's like making a putt, it's either going to go in or miss. You might as well give it your best and enjoy being in the situation."

Friday's tough conditions were caused when the greens baked in the sun. Lee Westwood, who had a 71, called them "ridiculously quick" and said this was not "how the designer intended the course to be set up." Niclas Fasth had 41 putts in his 76. "The greens have destroyed this course," the Swede said. "Completely unplayable. It's ruined a perfectly good course. This was a wonderful course on Tuesday and the greens were the best I've seen. Now they are drying out so fast they don't even hold the line. It's such a pity."

The greens were watered overnight and the scoring improved significantly with Charles Howell returning a 65 and Paul Casey a 66. "Did it rain last night?" Casey asked. It had not. "A little bit of water or whatever they did and suddenly the course was playable. It was still tough but if you played a good shot you got rewarded. It was pretty clear after two holes that you needed something under par to make a move."

At level par Casey jumped into the top 10 but one of his playing partners, his team-mate for England in next month's World Cup, Justin Rose, who has a stiff neck, came home in 41 for a 74. Padraig Harrington was the third member of the group but three bogeys in the last five holes left the Irishman with a 69.