While Fleetwood finished off his third round at the PGA National with a brilliant eagle, to give the Englishman a 67 and put him on five-under within two of the lead held by American Luke List, Woods set himself up for his first top 10 in almost three years.
Watching Woods shoot a 69, it was almost impossible to equate this figure with the player who has suffered for so long with back pain and who just nine months ago underwent a spinal fusion operation.
On level par, Woods is tied for 11th and although it is a stretch to imagine him winning from there, that notion does not seem nearly so far fetched as the 42-year-old being in this position at the start of the week.
Having missed the cut at last week’s Genesis Open in Los Angeles many feared for him at the brutal layout, just a few miles from his Florida home. But there Woods was actually bemoaning “only” shooting a round of one-under.
“That was probably the highest score I could have shot today,” Woods said. “I really hit it good and had nice control of it today. If I could have just made a few more putts on the front nine, I could have got the round started. Overall, I feel very pleased to shoot something in the red and give myself a chance going into tomorrow. See what happens.”
Woods could easily have posted four- or five-under and the fact that he is even talking about winning on just his third full-field tournament in a year appears little shot of a miracle in itself.
Certainly, his fitness cannot be doubted. Woods’s swing speed was up to 128mph, one of the fastest on Tour. Even his biggest detractor, Brandel Chamblee, the former PGA Tour player turned Golf Channel analyst, could extend nothing but praise. “I never thought I would this Tiger Woods again,” Chamblee said.
For Fleetwood is it almost the perfect scenario to make his American breakthrough as the focus is squarely elsewhere. The Merseysider’s three-under afternoon included two eagles and a double bogey. Fleetwood holed out from 140 yards on the par-four fourth, made an ugly six on par four 13th and then played a sumptuous three wood from 283 yards to seven feet for a three on the par-five last.
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