The shadows had claimed much of the 18th green when Tiger Woods entered golf’s closing amphitheatre. The gallery was stacked high on all sides to witness the great man knock one dead to keep the game alive at the Turkish Airlines Open. It had been a torrid few holes for Woods, who somehow maintained a decent-looking card despite spraying it left and right. Bogeys at 15 and 16, where he flunked a one-legged shot while wrapped around a greenside tree, ran parallel with the turbo finish of runaway leader Victor Dubuisson.
From one behind at the 14th he found himself, three holes later, trailing by six and was so far left of the final tee he was forced to hit a provisional. In the event, Woods located his ball nestled in pine needles, from where he hacked it in the general direction of the green. Fortune indeed favours the brave. Woods’s ball landed on a spectator path and was afforded a free drop. His pitch just cleared the fringe coming to rest 20 feet from the hole.
In fading light and on a surface he described as the slowest he had ever seen, Woods committed to his line and saw the ball snake up and across a ridge before finding the middle of the hole. Up went the arm, mad went the punters. This is what they had come to witness, the Tiger finale of lore. He wasn’t at his best. Neither was he giving anything away for free. “Just got to hang in there, just got to keep fighting. That’s the way I have always played,” said Woods, who signed for a 68.
“I didn’t warm-up very well and was fighting it on the front nine but getting away with it a little bit. Just finally caught up with me and I hit a lot of bad shots on the back nine. Somehow on 18 I made four.”
Dubuisson was mesmeric down the stretch, getting up and down when he was out of position and blitzing everything else. He drove the green at the 15th to claim a hat-trick of birdies and signed off with another for a muscular 63. “Sometimes I can be very long [off tee] when I’m under pressure, with the adrenaline. But here I just try to keep it on the fairway.”
The Frenchman begins the final round tomorrow five shots clear of Ian Poulter and six ahead of Woods and Henrik Stenson. “It will be very stressed, I think,” he said. “I try not to think about it [big names in pursuit] because if I do, I will put too much pressure on myself. I know Tiger and Henrik will shoot a very low score so I have to keep the same strategy.”
It was some day for French golfers with Raphael Jacquelin lowering the course record with a 62 to join Woods, Stenson and Alejandro Canizares. The US Open champion Justin Rose closed with a birdie for a 67 and starts eight back on 13 under par with Jamie Donaldson.