Carnoustie - It had been 2 226 days since Tiger Woods had led at the end
of a round at a major, but for a short while at The Open on Saturday it
looked like he might do just that going into the final day.
The 42-year-old's much anticipated return to The Open after
a two-year hiatus had been a bit of a damp squib on the first two days at
However, in an event he has won three times, most recently
in 2006, the old fire returned on the Scottish links to reward the packed
gallery of spectators following him.
The 14-time major winner - plagued in the past eight years
by personal issues and back problems - fired in six birdies in a round only
marred by a bogey at the 16th as he seeks a first tournament win in five years.
A brilliant par on the ultra-demanding 18th - having
benefited from a huge stroke of luck - briefly made him the clubhouse leader on
five under par and he was smiling from ear to ear as he strode off the green.
He has not topped the leaderboard at the end of a round in a
major since the second round of the US Open in 2012.
Woods may have struggled to make par on the first but from
then on some of his golf resembled that of him at his peak, back when he
appeared to be on another level entirely compared to his rivals.
A monster birdie putt on the ninth had him punching the air
in celebration and took him to three-under for the day and the tournament.
Fired up by that, he played even better on the next hole as he turned for home.
His approach shot to the 10th green landed a foot from the
cup and he duly tapped in for another birdie, flashing a contented smile.
A massive drive on the following hole almost took him to the
green and he duly went on to birdie that as well to pile the pressure on
overnight leaders Kevin Kisner and Zach Johnson.
Woods felt relaxed enough to engage in some banter with a
spectator on the 12th tee after his drive had landed on the fairway, but his
run of birdies came to an end there.
Another soon came at the long 14th, and he was touching the
tip of his cap in appreciation of the roars of the huge crowds as he jumped
into a share of the outright lead.
However, two holes later he dropped a shot after
three-putting at the short 16th, and a rueful shake of the head confirmed his
Coming to the 18th he was just two off the lead and luck
seemed to favour him as his drive hit the bank of the Barry Burn, but instead
of dropping into the water like Frenchman Jean Van de Velde on the final day in
the 1999 Open, Woods' ball somehow bounced back into the rough.
One angry swish of the club indicated his irritation but it
ended in smiles by the time he sank his par putt.