Tiger Woods is one round away from returning to No. 1 in the world.
With key par saves early in his round and an eagle for the third straight day at Bay Hill, Woods seized control on Saturday with a 6-under 66 to race by Justin Rose and build a two-shot lead going into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Woods was at 11-under 205, two shots ahead of Rickie Fowler (67), John Huh (71) and Rose, who at one point was six shots ahead of Woods. Rose had a 39 on the back nine and wound up with a 72.
Woods has not been No. 1 in the world ranking since October 2010. That could change, if he were to win yesterday with a victory on a Bay Hill course where he already has won seven times, and from a position where he hardly ever loses.
Woods is 41-2 on the US PGA Tour when he has the outright lead going into the final round.
“Just because I’ve won here doesn’t ensure that I’m going to win the tournament,” Woods said. “The conditions are different. The game might be different, but the objective is still to put myself in position to win the golf tournament and somehow get it done on Sunday. Over the course of my career, I’ve done a pretty decent job of that.”
Rose had a three-shot lead on the back nine until he crumbled, making three bogeys over the last six holes.
He did not even make it into the final group.
Fowler dropped only one shot on a muggy day with a short burst of showers, closing with a par from the back bunker on the 18th.
Nine players were separated by three shots going into the final round, though the dynamic takes on a different vibe at Bay Hill. Woods can tie a tour record for most victories at one tournament. Sam Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times.
Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark had a 66 and was in the group at eight-under 208, along with Jimmy Walker (70), Bill Haas (73), Ken Duke (70) and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano of Spain, who played with Woods and had a 68.
Woods narrowly beat the Spaniard a year ago in the opening round of the Match Play Championship. Fernandez-Castano noticed a big difference one year later.
“He’s definitely more comfortable,” he said. “I remember at the Match Play, his routine was longer. You could see he wasn’t confident with what he was doing.”
Woods, who has won twice this year, has a clearer vision of what he is doing and where the ball is going. He surged ahead with a six-iron into 12 feet on the 15th for birdie, and another six-iron into 20 feet on the 16th for an eagle that put him atop the leaderboard.