Tiger Woods got it all to click in the third round of the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass

Golf


PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Sometimes, it is as simple as hitting a nice drive, seeing the ball go where you want it to go and getting that first putt to drop.

“I finally got off to a good start,” said Tiger Woods after shooting his best round of the year and his best ever at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium course, a 7-under-par 65 that vaulted him from the cut line into the top 10 when his round was complete.

On the first hole, Woods hit a 334-yard drive into the fairway, had just 105 yards left to the hole, knocked it to 15 feet and made the putt. Pretty simple. A birdie and he was on his way to an 8-birdie, 1-bogey round that could have been better.

“I felt like 65 was the highest I could have shot,” he said.

Woods has struggled of late. At the Wells Fargo Championship last week, he made but a single birdie during the second round as he barely made the cut, then none during the final round as he tied for 55th.

At the Players Championship, Woods opened 72-71, making just four birdies and an eagle through two rounds, including only two birdies on Friday.

He lamented his inability to put to get all facets of his game working together.

“This is just part of the job,” he said. “We have to figure out a way to put it together, and I have not done that consistently this year so far.”

On Saturday, Woods did.

How did he do it?

Finding fairways

For the better part of his career, Woods has never hit fairways in prolific numbers. This year, he is averaging just a shade over 50 percent hit, which equates to 208th on the PGA Tour.

On Saturday, he hit 11 of 14.

Hitting greens — and in the correct spot

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Mackenzie Hughes was paired with Tiger Woods during his third round 65 and he expects him to win “a ton more.”

Woods hit 15 of 18 greens on Saturday, and for the year, his 63 percent mark ranks just 138th. But even on the days when he has hit a lot of greens, he hasn’t been particularly close to the hole.

Case in point on Friday: On seven occasions, Woods was 125 yards or closer to the point. He hit none inside of 15 feet, and four times was outside of 30 feet. Those are not legitimate birdie chances.

“I had some shorter irons in there, and I didn’t hit any of them close,” Woods said on Friday. “I should be hitting them inside flag length and didn’t do that at all today.”

The changed Saturday. Of the seven times Woods had 130 yards or less, five times he hit the ball inside of 15 feet.

He made birdie putts of 15, 5, 10, 16, and 10 feet and of 1 foot on the front nine.

Finding the right combination

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Michael Collins breaks down Tiger Woods’ strong performance during the third round of The Players Championship.

You can point to both driving and short-iron play for the improvement. Woods hits plenty of greens from the rough, but it is far more difficult to control the ball. He can’t always hit it close, which happens more frequently when playing from the fairway.

“I felt more comfortable driving the ball down there and being a little more aggressive off the tees and getting it down there, squeezing it around some of these corners, and consequently, I had a lot of 9-irons on down,” he said.

Having shorter irons from the fairway allows you the chance to hit it closer, something Woods had not been doing.

The putting

In the end, you need the ball to drop in the hole. Woods had a horrible week on the greens at Quail Hollow, taking 126 putts for the week, more than 30 each day. At the Players, he has had fewer than 30 each day, with only 27 in the third round and just 11 on the front nine.

“It was nice to see a few putts go in,” he said.

Finally, it all added up

Woods shot his ninth round of the year in the 60s out of 29 on the PGA Tour. His previous lowest was a 67 during the third round of the Valspar Championship. It was also his lowest on the Stadium course in 66 rounds and his lowest on the PGA Tour in relation to par since 2013.

“Eventually, I was going to put all the pieces together, and [in Saturday’s third round], for the most part I did that,” Woods said. “I hit a lot of good quality shots. I hit some shots in the correct spots, which was nice. I hit probably three of the best long irons I’ve hit all week.

“The second shot there at 9 [par-5, from 268 yards], the tee shot I hit at 8 [from 242 yards] … the 3-iron I hit into 11 [from 243 yards], that’s all you want out of a 3-iron right there. It’s just a high, towering bomb, and I was able to pull it off.”

Now, the key for Woods is to build on it.

“I wish I could repeat it more often,” he said. “But honestly, it was just a better start. I got off to a quality start. I piped one down 1 and just had a flip sand wedge in there and finally was able to convert and make a birdie there.”



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