We all know the numbers. They tell a tale of certainty, of an outcome already decided.
Tiger Woods is 4-for-4 in majors when leading after the first round. He is 8-for-8 when leading after the second round. He is 14-for-14 when leading after the third round.
With a five-shot lead heading into the day, it looked like the weekend gameplan for Woods was to run away and hide, which he almost did.
Woods played a remarkably precise round of golf, reminiscent of a US Open-style round. He hit nine of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens in regulation. Though those were his worst totals of the week, it was a round very much under control.
Tiger failed to make a single birdie on Hazeltine’s four par-5s, but he put himself in great positions. On the par-5 3rd, he hit a laser down the left side of the fairway, leaving a perfect opening to the right pin, tucked into the foliage. He missed the 20-foot birdie putt.
How about on the par-5 15th where he made a perfect layup, but again failed to capitalize.
Tiger may have out-thought himself coming into Saturday with a run-and-hide strategy.
Knowing Tiger, his gameplan was probably to play the first 13 holes at even or 1-under. Then, try and make a birdie or two at Nos. 14 and 15 and finish up at around 9- or 10-under.
Tiger spoke with CBS correspondent David Feherty after the round and used words like patient and conservative to describe his round and that it felt like he was lag-putting all day.
The PGA Championship is the one major where you can go low—it rewards unadulterated aggression. Maybe that’s why long-bomber Alvaro Quiros is doing so well here. Maybe that’s why John Daly won his first major at a PGA Championship.
As Woods and Singh made the turn in the final group, most of the players on the first page of the leaderboard were at 3-under, or 4-under for the day, but Woods sat at even.
Then Padraig Harrington birdied the short par-4 14th to tie Tiger for the lead at 7-under.
The field had caught Tiger Woods.
If only for a moment.
Tiger had some magic of his own at No. 14.
After launching a towering drive at the 313-yard par-4, Tiger chipped just past the pin and into the fringe.
Tiger took a little bladed sand wedge and chipped in for birdie at No. 14, launching a huge first pump into the air.
His only fist pump of the day because it was a ho-hum day for Woods.
Vijay Singh imploded in round three, something that happens all too often to Tiger’s playing companions.
The CBS crew said that Vijay could handle playing with Tiger—that they have history—that he was just going to go out and play his own game. But strange things happen when guys play with Tiger, they do all manner of things they don’t normally do.
It was a positive start for Vijay after making an eagle at No. 7. With that boost of adrenaline and confidence, it should have propelled him to a big run. The only thing that was holding him back on Saturday was his putter.
Singh has a tough cross-green putt on No. 10 and leaves it four or five feet short, only to miss that one for a three-putt bogey. He took the putter back, pauses for what seems like a millennium, and shoves the blade forward with a herk and a jerk.
He’s been struggling with his putting, changing grips and styles numerous times this year.
He had his knee scoped in January, and hasn’t been the same since.
Vijay hits into the hazard on No. 16, and misses bogey putt to make it a double.
Vijay was the last man to be ranked No. 1 in the world, other than his playing partner.
Vijay missed four putts inside five feet on Saturday.
Vijay Singh is now eight shots back of Tiger Woods.
What Could Have Been
Ernie Els hasn’t won a tournament since March, 2008 and didn’t make the cut in two of the three majors this year (T-8 British Open).
Els had a terrific round going on Saturday, and looked to be among Sunday’s contenders for Tiger after he chipped in on No. 12 to get him to 5-under, just two back of Woods.
Els fell apart with three consecutive bogeys coming in on Nos. 16, 17, 18 to finish at 3-under for the Championship.
The Hope For Sunday
Tiger Woods opened the door—even if it’s just a crack—and against the greatest golfer of his generation, that’s all you can really hope for.