Top-ranked Tiger Woods fired a six-under par 66, the best round of the week at the Cadillac Championship, to charge into contention on Saturday at the US$9 million World Golf Championships.
Woods stood on one-under 215 after 54 holes, leaving him in a share of fourth after three rounds, three off the pace.
American Patrick Reed shot a 69 to lead on 212, with countrymen Jason Dufner and Hunter Mahan two back and Woods and Welshman Jamie Donaldson another stroke adrift.
A week after pulling out of the final round of the USPGA Honda Classic with back spasms, Woods displayed the form that has made him a 14-time major winner, but has been seen inconsistently of late.
“I played well,” Woods said. “I got off to a good start. I held it together and made some putts.”
Woods, 38, admits he still fights twinges of back pain even in a good round.
“It’s a little bit better,” Woods said. “Each day it gets sore and progressively more sore as the day goes on.”
Woods, who has won the event at Doral’s Blue Monster seven times, did not play a practice round after days of treatment to ease his back pain, reduced only to chipping and putting practice and a walk of the course on Wednesday.
Given Woods’ record at Doral, that would not normally be a huge problem, but new owner Donald Trump spent the past year revamping the layout and many holes were completely new to Woods and the elite field.
Woods said “it is really hard” to know how to read the greens in only two days, but after an opening 76 and a 73 in round two, Woods mastered them.
Woods sank a four-foot birdie putt at the par-5 opening hole. He birdied the third with a 13-foot putt, missed a four-foot putt to bogey the par-three fourth, then answered by making an 11-foot birdie putt at the fifth.
After a birdie at the par-five eighth, Woods added back-to-back birdies at 11 and 12, sinking putts of 16 and 22 feet respectively.
Woods found a bunker at the par-three 13th and took bogey, but responded with a 35-foot birdie putt at the par-three 15th, which brought back the Woods fist pump celebration of his glory days.
“It went right to left and a little faster than it showed,” Woods said. “I was happy to pull it off.”
Woods added a birdie at the 16th and closed with back-to-back pars, including a testy 10-footer at 17.
While Woods jumped 25 spots in the field, he could not catch 36-hole coleader Reed, who is seeking his third career victory.
Reed’s first title came in August last year at Greensboro, North Carolina, and his second was in January at the Humana Challenge.
Reed took a bogey at the third, but sank a 41-foot eagle putt at the eighth then began the back nine with back-to-back birdies.
After a bogey at the 15th, Reed birdied the 16th and parred the last two holes to secure his spot in yesterday’s final group.
“I feel like I played well. Coming into a Saturday where everyone was bunched, to go out and make an early bogey, then fight back to get it to four-under for the tournament, I’m pleased,” Reed said.
“Would I like to have a couple more and a bigger cushion? Yeah, but at the same time I’m in the right position with the lead going into a Sunday,” he added.