Albany, Bahamas: Gary Woodland once again came up trumps with a birdie-birdie finish to snatch sole lead at the end of the third round of the Hero World Challenge here on Saturday.
It was a tight leader board with six players separated by three shots. The six included host Tiger Woods, who has not won his own event since 2011 when it was held in California, but is coming off a win in Japan in his previous start. He is looking to round off the year with a third win – after the Masters and Zozo in Japan.
First round co-leader, Woodland (68) birdied the 18th to vault past Henrik Stenson (68) as the day ended. Stenson, teeing up at his 50th event since his last win in 2017, was in a group ahead of Woodland. The Swede was five-under through 17 and leading at 13-under before the bogey on 18th dropped him to 12-under.
Woodland came up next and birdied the same to sneak ahead to 13-under.
Overnight leader Patrick Reed (74) dropped to 10-under and his card included a two-shot penalty for “improving his lie” on the Par-5 11th, about which he was asked and informed at the end of the round.
Woods for the second straight day equalled the best card at 67. Playing partner Justin Thomas had the other 67, said he had left quite a few shots out there. He was 11-under through 54 holes and tied with Thomas (67) and Jon Rahm (69), trying to match Wood’s feat of winning the Hero World Challenge in successive years.
For Woods, the 18th finally gave him some joy with a birdie after a bogey on the first day and a missed birdie on the second.
He said, “My swing feels good. Since I’ve come back from my little knee procedure, I’ve swung the club well. I hit it well in Japan. I’m hitting it well here. I just need to make a few more putts. We have five par 5s and most of them are reachable even with some of the different winds. So it’s certainly conceivable to shoot anywhere between seven and nine under par.”
Woods getting ready ahead of the Presidents Cup as a playing captain next week in Australia, said, “I just have to focus on going out there and making birdies. And then I have 23 hours on a plane to recover.”
Woods will play the final round with Thomas, the third time he will be doing so this week. Woods has never outscored Thomas in the 13 times they have played together, including the third round here.
Woodland who makes his Presidents Cup debut next week dropped only one shot and finished with a flourish. He knocked home a 30-foot putt on the par-3 17th and then with the wind at his back, he hit wedge to three feet for a closing birdie. The closing holes seemed to be suiting him well, as he had three straight birdies on last three in second round.
“It was a nice finish, same as yesterday,” said Woodland. “I am so excited about where I’m at and I look forward to tomorrow.”
Stenson last won in August 2017 at the Wyndham Championship and since then is grappling with swing problems besides injuries. He shot 68 and will play in the last group with Woodland.
Stenson has finished in the top five in five of his six prior starts at Hero, including two runner-up finishes in 2014 and 2016.
Stenson, who twice hit a sprinkler cup on fifth and sixth holes, said, “We’ll see if we can carry out another good round tomorrow, but yeah, any good result is always welcome. I’ve slipped down a little bit in the world rankings, so it would be nice to fill up a few good points here before Santa Claus arrives.”
Reed had a rather frustrating round but may well have expected to hand in a card for 72 when he was assessed a two-shot penalty. Reed watched the video of moving sand away from his golf ball in the waste area on the Par-5 hole and his already painful six on the Par-5 turned to a disastrous eight. The card became 74 and he fell to 10-under and sixth.
Reed starting with a three-shot lead could not find a birdie for first 10 holes and suffered the shocker on 11th. His first birdie came on 14thand the last seven holes saw him ride out a roller coaster with three birdies, two bogeys and two pars.
Reed said the club was farther away from the ball than it looked on television. He did not realize the club had brushed away sand and said, “I didn’t feel it drag.”
“So after seeing the video, it’s a two-stroke penalty. I accept that,” said Reed.
At just three behind the leader, Reed has one more chance in the final round to make up before getting onto that plane to Australia.