Tiger Close to Closing the Open

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For the first time this week, the Pebble Beach golf course put up a fight against Tiger Woods in the third round. And though Tiger took a couple on the chin, he landed some pretty good shots of his own. In the end, the round was a draw, with Woods shooting an even-par 71. Yet, if the 100th U.S. Open were truly a boxing match, Woods would have already won by TKO.
 
Conjuring up images of his runaway victory in the 1997 Masters Tournament, Woods is once again lapping the field in a major championship. At -8, Tiger is the only player currently under par. His nearest competitor is Ernie Els, who's at 2-over-par.

Tiger's 10-shot lead after 54 holes is a U.S. Open record. The previous margin was seven, set by James Barnes in 1921. That's not the only record Woods set on Saturday. His six-stroke lead through 36 holes is also a new record; breaking the five-stroke margin set by Willie Anderson in 1903, and tied by Mike Souchak in 1960.
 
Tiger's record-breaking Saturday began at 4:30am PT. After stepping off the course 10 hours prior, Tiger was forced to complete his second round beginning at 6:30am. Woods did so by posting one birdie and two bogeys over his final six holes. Ironically, the two bogeys came on the par-5 14th and par-5 18th. Still Woods' 134 total tied him with Jack Nicklaus, T.C. Chen and Lee Janzen for yet another Open record. Nicklaus' and Janzen's two-day scores both came at Baltusrol in 1980 and 1993, respectively. Chen's came in the 1985 Open at Oakland Hills.
 
'Well, I guess if you go on to lose, you look like an idiot,' Woods said after completing his second round. 'I'm going to play hard and do the same things I've been doing, which is hit the fairways. If I have a good situation, I'll go ahead and attack. If not, I'll dump it on the side of the green and make my par.'
 
Seven hours after finishing his second round, a fully rested and stomach-filled Woods once again made his way to the course. However, this time the course was waiting. Strong winds were wreaking havoc on the 61 others already out on the course. Tiger had successfully avoided such conditions through two rounds, but there was no such luck in Round 3. Of course, Tiger doesn't need much luck.
 
Paired with Thomas Bjorn, Woods embarked on his third round with a six-shot cushion at 8-under-par. Tiger moved to nine-under after sinking a remarkable 30-foot birdie putt on the 2nd, but trouble - and hope for the rest of the field - lurked on the par-4 3rd. Tiger's approach shot came up short and right of the green. It landed outside of a bunker, yet buried deep down in the nightmarish Open rough. Woods nearly whiffed his next shot, and then managed to barely advance his fourth. His fifth finally made the green. Two putts later, Tiger had carded a triple-bogey-7.
 
Woods was now at six-under, yet in the difficult conditions, no one was able to make a run at him. His playing companion, Bjorn, bogeyed two of his first three holes to remain six shots off the lead. In fact, after making a par on the 4th, Woods reached the par-3 5th as the only man under par. It would stay that way for the remainder of the day.
 
On the par-5 6th, Tiger escaped trouble by playing a phenomenal shot from the roughage encompassing a fairway bunker. The resultant birdie lifted him back to seven-under. Then came the short par-3 7th. The wind had been howling throughout the third round, causing near-comical miscues from the world's best players. But as Tiger reached the tee, the conditions calmed and watched as he struck an iron pin high to eight feet. Another birdie ensued, and Woods was level for the day at 8-under-par.
 
The wind soon returned, and Woods sandwiched a birdie at the par-4 9th between two bogeys at the 8th and 10th, with a final birdie coming at the 14th. In all, Tiger posted five birdies, two bogeys and one triple for an even-par 71. Woods finished the round where he stared, at eight-under. But though his position didn't change, his lead did.
 
'I knew if I shot even par or somewhere close to that, I'd probably pick up a shot or two, just because the conditions were so severe out there,' Woods said following his third round. 'Going into tomorrow, if I can just go out there and hit a lot of good solid shots, especially off the tees, I feel like if I drive the ball in a lot of fairways tomorrow, I have a pretty good chance, no matter what (Els) shoots.'
 
Only one player managed to break par in Saturday's third round. That was Els, who posted an early 3-under-par 69 to finish 54 holes at 2-over-par. Ernie's round included a holed wedge shot from 99 yards for an eagle-2 at the 4th. Els had started the day in a tie for 36th, but jumped into a tie for 8th upon the completion of his round. By the end of the day, he was in second place alone.
 
The par-71 Pebble Beach course played at a 77.124 scoring average in the third round. Sixteen players shot 80 or higher, including Bjorn. The Dane began the day tied for second at 2-under-par, but carded one birdie, eight bogeys and two double-bogeys for an 11-over-par 82. He's now tied for 22nd.
 
Jimenez did break 80, but he didn't fare much better. Like Bjorn, the Spaniard started his third round tied for second at two-under. But Jimenez bogeyed the first and never recovered. He posted five bogeys and no birdies for a round of 76. He's still tied for third, but is now 11 shots off the lead.
 
With a ten shot lead over his closest competition, Woods is a near-mortal lock to win his first U.S. Open. In his '97 Masters romp, Woods led by nine shots through 54 holes, yet still shot 69 on Sunday to increase his winning margin to 12.
 
In terms of Tiger, the only suspense left is to see how many records he can match or break. But there is still the matter of a $475,000 second-place check. In the event within the event, there are ten players within four shots of one another.
 
NEWS, NOTES AND NUMBERS
*Woods and Els will tee off at 12:40pm PT.
 
*The last player to win the U.S. Open wire-to-wire was Tony Jacklin in 1970.
 
*The record for largest winning margin in an Open is 11 strokes, set by Willie Smith in 1899.
 
*The record aggregate 72-hole total at an Open is 272, set by Jack Nicklaus (1980) and Lee Janzen (1993).
 
*The lowest 72-hole score in relation to par is eight under.
 
*The best comeback in a final Open round is seven strokes, set by Arnold Palmer in 1960.
 
*Gil Morgan holds the record for most strokes under par at any point in an Open, 12 in the third round in 1992 at Pebble Beach.
 
*Kirk Triplett began the third round at 1-under-par, but shot a third-round 84, including a nine on the par-5 18th to finish at 12-over-par, tied for 43rd.
 
*Triplett is tied with Hal Sutton, who played his first five holes in the third round at 6-over-par. Sutton shot a 12-over-par 83.
 
*Jim Furyk began his day with a birdie on the 1st, but then bogeyed the 2nd, tripled the 3rd and after a par at the 4th, began a stretch of eight straight bogeys at the 5th. Furyk shot 13-over-par 84 for the day.