He might well be the overwhelming favourite to lift the €1,015,944 (£683,778) first prize from the World Golf Championships – American Express Championship but it is a pretty fair bet that the real treasure that Tiger Woods might want to take home from The Grove on Sunday night is the Hertfordshire course’s 18th hole.
For the third day in succession, the World Number One carded an eagle three at the 567 yard hole, this time the feat being achieved via a 33 foot putt, which brought a huge roar from the massed galleries around the 18th green, who formed part of the record 26,458 attendance for the third day’s play.
It moved Woods into a hugely commanding position at the head of affairs, his 67 giving him a 19 under par total of 194 and a six shot lead over his nearest challenger, European Tour Member Adam Scott, the European Tour Member posting a best of day 65 for a 13 under par total of 200.
"It has been good to me that hole, hasn't it," he said. "Today I actually pulled my tee shot left into where the gallery was but I got a great lie, down grain, and I just hit a five wood trying to get anywhere right of the hole and it came out perfect. I had a left to right putt and I was just thinking 'make sure you get the pace right' and even though I didn't quite do that, the hole got in the way and the ball went in."
Woods now stands on the verge of his 12th individual success in the World Golf Championships and his sixth consecutive stroke play victory. Little wonder that some bookmakers were offering odds of 1/125 that the 30 year old defending champion will be standing with the trophy in his hands again come Sunday night.
Ironically, Woods’ finish was in direct contrast to the start of his third round which lacked the fireworks which had been apparent in his opening rounds of 63-64. A bogey at the eighth put him over par for the day before he rescued par with a birdie at the ninth but, by then, the chasing pack sensed, perhaps, a chink of light.
However, one by one they all failed to move forwards themselves and when Woods birdied the 12th and 15th holes, the all too familiar gap at the top of leaderboard reappeared. Of course, after events at the 18th, that gap became a chasm.
Nearest challenger Scott produced the round of the day with six birdies and no dropped shots in his 65 and the Australian will have to replicate that or go even lower if he is to lead the charge and make up the deficit.
“It is a lot of shots to make up but we are looking at some bad weather tomorrow,” he said. “You never know but everyone is up against it tomorrow. I mean the guy is such a good front runner, he gets so focused, and we’ve seen this year already how good he is at finishing out tournaments.
“We are all up against it, that’s for sure, but all you can do is go out and play your best golf and put a good score on the board. If it ends up that it is not good enough, then so be it, you’ve got to do better next time.”
Sharing third place on 12 under par 201 are Americans Jim Furyk and Brett Quigley. Furyk carded a 69 to just about keep in touch with his partner from last week’s Ryder Cup at The K Club, while Quigley will have to go some to end his barren streak on the US PGA Tour which now stretches to this, his 280th tournament appearance.
Another American Ryder Cup man, Stewart Cink, is in fourth place on 11 under par 202 after his third round 70 while the European challenge is massed on the ten under par mark of 203, a figure which plays host to David Howell, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson, all of whom shared a modicum of disappointment that they had not eaten a little bit more into Woods’ total, Poulter and Stenson carding 68s while Howell posted level par 71.
“Today was a bit frustrating,” said Poulter. “I think there was a great chance today as Tiger didn’t really do anything on the front nine. But unfortunately I missed a couple and realistically I should have been about four shots closer to him which is frustrating.”
Fellow Englishman Howell concurred. “I was three under through ten and going quite nicely and I just hit a couple of loose shots in there and let the round get away from me a little bit. If I could have ploughed on and shot 67 or 68 that would have been okay, but 71 wasn’t really what I was looking for.”
Stenson said: “I actually played well today but I felt like I should have had a couple of shot better from the round. Sometimes even if you hit good shots you can get unlucky with bounces and stuff and that is what happened to me today. Hopefully I can get a few good breaks tomorrow.”
The organisers of The World Golf Championships – American Express Championship have decided that play for the final round on Sunday October 1 will start from the first and tenth tees with groups of three players from 9.00. The leaders will tee off at 10.37, giving an anticipated finish time of 15.30 on the basis that there are no delays. The reason for the change is due to the weather forecast showing a chance of localised thunderstorms in the area during Sunday which may cause temporary delays to play.