PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – After a bogey-bogey start to his third round Saturday, Tiger Woods made three straight birdies at the U.S. Open, taking advantage of a layout where some tees have been moved forward to allow for good scoring.
Woods made birdies on Nos. 4, 5 and 6 to get to 3-over par, still six shots behind leader Graeme McDowell, who was scheduled to tee off later in the day.
McDowell had a two-shot lead over Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Ryo Ishikawa and Dustin Johnson, all of whom were set for late tee times that would have them finishing in prime time on the East Coast.
With the leaders coming onto the course, it was sunny and 61 degrees with gusts up to 20 mph at Pebble Beach – possibly treacherous conditions even though the course allowed some good scores early.
Davis Love III, a two-time winner of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, went out in 5-under 30 en route to a 3-under 68 that left him at 4-over 217 for the tournament.
David Duval, a runner-up at the U.S. Open last year at Bethpage Black, went out in 31, but made three bogeys over the next five holes to fall to 5 over.
Tom Watson, the 60-year-old playing his fifth U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, also got in on the act until missing short putts over the final couple of holes. Watson still managed a 1-under 70 to complete three rounds in 6-over 219.
Watson warned the greens, which he said makes a player feel like he’s “putting over a heard of turtles,” would get more difficult as the wind dried the course out in the afternoon.
“The backs of those turtles get higher and higher, and the winds will come up and it will dry out the lower parts of these greens,” he said. “It will get more bumpy. It’s always been the case here.”
Woods called the greens “awful” after his opening round Thursday, then drew some criticism from the USGA before he headed to the course for the third round.
“As far as the greens are concerned, he’s wrong,” USGA executive director David Fay said. “That old statement that you’re entitled to your opinion? He is entitled to his opinion, but he’s off on his facts. These putting surfaces have never been better.”
Woods’ biggest problem early didn’t have so much to do with putting. After driving the ball to 40 yards from the green on the par-4 third, he tried a flop shot from a tight lie to the back, right pin location and knocked it over the green. His chip rolled to 10 feet past the hole and he missed for his second straight bogey.
But he took advantage of No. 4, where the tee box has been moved to only 284 yards from the hole to make it drivable. Woods’ tee shot landed just short of the green and after a chip and a putt, he had the first of three straight birdies. He had a 15-foot putt for eagle on No. 6 that barely missed.
Also taking advantage of the easier layout was Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand, who aced the 181-yard, fifth hole – the first hole-in-one at the U.S. Open since 2006.
While the USGA was moving up tee boxes, it was not as liberal in watering the course overnight, and the wind was gusting up to 20 mph, which could dry the course and make things progressively more difficult for the afternoon and evening rounds.
And, yes, they will be playing late.
In an effort to televise the tournament in prime time on the East Coast, the USGA set a 6:50 p.m. ET tee time for McDowell, who comes into the weekend at 3-under-par 139.
He looked loose before his round, warming up on the range by hitting balls with his left hand only.
Mickelson, meanwhile, was set to play with Alex Cejka, one of four players who come into the weekend at even-par 142. Mickelson, seeking his first U.S. Open victory after a record five second-place finishes, shot a 5-under 66 on Friday to get in the hunt.
“I’m in a good spot,” he said after a second round in which he beat the entire field at a major for the first time in his career. “I don’t look at the leaderboard. I don’t look at other players. I look at par. If you can stay around par, you’re going to be in the tournament Sunday. That was kind of the goal.”