Woods birdied his last three holes for a round of 66 which swept the three time champion from his overnight share of 25th to outright third but more importantly it made a statement to his fellow competitors and the golfing world in general that he a was well and truly back.
Woods trails by five from Dustin Johnson who was engaged in a see-sawing battle with second round leader Graeme McDowell for much of today's third round before breaking the deadlock with an 18 foot putt for birdie at the 17th which turned almost at right angles as it died into the hole. He then extended the gap between himself and the field with a two putt birdie at the last to equal Woods' round of 66 and he leads by three over McDowell and by five over Woods.
McDowell led with three holes to play before bogies at the 16th and 17th gave Johnson the chance he took full advantage of. Johnson will not turn 26 until Tuesday but already has three PGA Tour victories to his name, two of those coming on this very layout at Pebble Beach in the AT&T Championship. Interestingly he played in a practice round on Monday with Tiger Woods.
Johnson is considered one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour but that he leads the greens in regulation statistics this week perhaps reflects how he has been able to combine that power with some great strategies. "I drove it very well today and hit a lot of fairways. If I hit a lot of fairway I usually play well. I was controlling my irons today especially the distance. This is a demanding golf course but I'm really hitting the ball well this week which means I have been able to stop it on the greens pretty well."
"I loved this place the first time I saw it," he said referring to his remarkable success here. "You couldn't get a more beautiful place to play golf."
Johnson spoke of the thought of winning this event so close to his birthday. "You could not get a better present than winning the US Open."
McDowell was still optimistic about his chances tomorrow. "He (Johnson) has to go home and sleep on a three shot lead at the US Open. If he comes out tomorrow the way he did today then he could run away with it but we will see. Of course I would rather be three ahead but I am happy with my position. We have Tiger playing ahead of us so tomorrow it should be fun day." Ã‚Â
Frenchman Gregory Havret shares third position with Ernie Els both of whom not yet out of it at even par. Phil Mickelson is another shot back at 1 over. Ã‚Â
Woods was enjoying the fact that his game is reaching a point where he can now genuinely think about the prospect of winning his 15th major championship.
"That was better, (laughter)," said Woods stating the obvious after his round. Ã‚Â "I put it together today. Ã‚Â Not the greatest of starts, for sure, 2over through 3. Ã‚Â And that's not where you need to be."Ã‚Â
"I just kept telling myself all day, that whatever you do get back to even par for the Tournament and I'll be right back in the ballgame. Ã‚Â And - I'll be one better.
"It's been a while," he added referring to the excitement of the crowd to his play. "It's been a while. Ã‚Â I hadn't played good enough for anyone to cheer for anything. Everyone was just so excited and fired up that it was just a great atmosphere for play in front of."
And so what about that shot at the last which will be shown time and time again not only during this championship but in years to come especially if Woods goes on to win?
"When I firstÃ‚Â when I was walking up there I was figuring that I would probably have to hit a big sweeping hook to lay up, or I don't think the slice was going to work because it doesn't fit the, to go with the hole, around the bunker there. When I got up there I said, you know what, actually I have a shot at this. Ã‚Â I was hoping Stevie would give me a good number from where I could actually give it a run. Ã‚Â And he said 260 and I said that's perfect.
I made sure that I held it and if anything just over cut it. Ã‚Â If I over cut it, I'm in the front bunker, and if I hold it on that wind that's coming in off the right, if I hold it, then it's going to be up the gap. Ã‚Â But make sure I commit to a hold, to a cut, and it came off perfect."
Woods finished his round some two hours ahead of the final pairing of Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell who would not complete their round until just after 8.00pm.
With a large field of 83 players making the 36 hole cut, tee off times would spread over nearly seven hours. The last twosome would not hit off until nearly 3.50pm, the aim being to have golf on prime time television on the East Coast.
Two years ago the moved proved a huge success when Tiger Woods produced drama at Torrey Pines and again they would try it although it would mean that the final group would not finish until 8.15pm.
So what of tomorrow? Johnson has already proven himself a tough customer although this of course is not only his national championship but a major at that. He will be put under the most demanding of examinations tomorrow and if he can pass it with flying colours and wins then he is on the verge of a brilliant career.
McDowell, Woods, Mickelson and Els might yet have something to say about that however.
Pebble Beach appears likely to produce yet another superb US Open finish. Ã‚Â
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