Say this for Tiger Woods' Saturday round at Royal Lytham and St. Anne's: at least he didn't self-destruct his way out of a chance at a win the way he did last month at the U.S. Open.
Oh, it certainly looked like Saturday was heading that way. After missing a makeable par putt on 1 and another on 3, Woods was bringing back ugly memories of Olympic, where he bogeyed half the first eight holes and effectively killed any chance he might have had of bringing down that elusive 15th major on U.S. soil.
[Martin Rogers: Adam Scott has title in sight as Tiger Woods fails to keep up]
This time around, though, Woods got his act together in a hurry. He birdied the sixth for the third straight day, continuing his mastery of what had been one of the tougher holes on the course. He followed that with two birdies in the next three holes, displaying a combination of deft distance putting and dart-throwing chips. He closed to within four strokes of leader Adam Scott...but that was as close as he'd get.
For the rest of the round, Woods remained oddly steady and calm, not taking chances, not getting himself into too much trouble. (After 8, he only bogeyed one more hole.) It was the smart play, of course; Woods doesn't have the game now to go hell-bent for leather at the flag and risk losing his ball in the same demon rough that claimed Phil Mickelson earlier this week. But on a calm day when Scott simply was not missing and Graeme McDowell was steamrolling right past him, Woods missed opportunities to narrow the gap.
He now sits alone in fourth place, five strokes behind Scott. He'll tee off with Brandt Snedeker, the Friday-night leader who found trouble early but salvaged a +3 round, in the grouping just ahead of the leaders. That's close enough to put some psychological pressure on Scott and Graeme McDowell with some of those classic Tiger-gallery cheers ... but Tiger will need to do something to warrant those cheers, of course.
Then there's this: Woods has never won a major he didn't lead after 54 holes. You can look at this a couple ways: one, he's better at protecting a lead than gaining one; and two, for most of his majors he was so freaking dominant through the first three days that he didn't need to chase anyone down.
Still, this is a new Tiger, a new game of golf. There's a long way to go at Royal Lytham, but it'd be fitting indeed if Woods won his newest major in a way he never did before.
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