Crouching Tiger Woods Two Back of Rookies


2007 Buick InvitationalSAN DIEGO -- Tiger Woods came within one shot of playing in the final threesome with a pair of rookies at the Buick Invitational.
Not that the youngsters would have minded.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is looking for his fifth career win at the Buick Invitational.
Nationwide Tour grads Brandt Snedeker and Andrew Buckle are the surprise leaders heading into the final round at Torrey Pines, where the only star near the top of the leaderboard just happens to be the world's best player.
Snedeker, who has led since his first-round 61 tied the North Course record, sputtered to a 2-over 74 playing with the rest of the field at the tougher South Course on Saturday.
Buckle fired a 4-under 68 to join Snedeker at 11-under-par 205.
The only thing keeping Woods out of the final group was a 3-foot birdie putt by Kevin Sutherland at No. 18, which gave Sutherland a 70 and moved him within a shot of the leaders.
Snedeker and Buckle, apparently unaware that Sutherland -- not Woods -- would be joining them, gave giddy interviews behind the 18th green.
'I don't think there will be many people watching us,' Buckle joked.
Later Snedeker added: 'I'm just going to enjoy every minute of it.'
For his part, Woods missed a lot of fairways and greens, but still managed a 3-under 69. He is two shots back, tied for fourth place with three others at 9-under 207.
'Things have gotten better each day and I've put myself in contention,' Woods said.
Woods is playing for his third straight Buick Invitational win and fifth overall. He has won six straight PGA TOUR starts dating back to last year's British Open.
Saturday, all three of his birdies came on the front nine at Nos. 4, 6 and 7. His real work came on the back, though, as he scrambled from bunkers to save par at 11, 15 and 16 to remain in the hunt.
If not for a pair of near misses -- a long birdie try at 13 hung on the edge and a 6-footer at 18 drifted left -- Woods would be right there with the rookies.
As it is, he's still only two shots off the lead.
'I had a couple opportunities to make a few more coming in, but I didn't do that,' Woods conceded. 'But I did make some good pars.'
Woods was joined at 9 under by Troy Matteson (69), Charles Howell III (73) and Bill Haas (72).
The top seven players on the leaderboard share 57 PGA TOUR wins: Woods has 54 of them; Sutherland, Howell and Matteson own one apiece. Howell and Matteson will play with Woods in the second-to-last threesome.
'It's like everyone imagines. If you can get in the group with Tiger, that's great because you know you're doing well,' Matteson said. 'But it will be different than the final rounds of other tournaments that I've been in. It will definitely be a different atmosphere.'
Snedeker, 26, made the PGA TOUR by finishing ninth on the Nationwide Tour money list last season despite missing five starts with a broken collarbone suffered when he tripped over a tree root.
He continued to lead without the luxury of playing from the fairways, which he missed 57 percent of the time Saturday. Snedeker hit just a quarter of Torrey Pines' fairways through the first two rounds.
'I tried to avoid all trees,' he joked, 'but I did seem to hit a few wayward drives.'
Snedeker made four bogeys and just two birdies over his first eight holes and watched a three-shot lead dwindle to a tie with Howell, who joined him in the lead when Snedeker missed an eight-foot par putt at No. 8.
At No. 9, Snedeker bounced back into the lead with a long birdie putt. But it would be a dog fight the rest of the way: three more bogeys and a round-saving 17-foot birdie putt at the 17th.
Buckle was steadier, posting seven birdies and three bogeys. He was alone in the lead following consecutive birdies at 12 and 13, but let it slip away with bogeys at 14 and 16.
He made a 14-foot putt at the 18th to get himself into the final group.
'When I got to 14 I couldn't find the green and I got anxious a few times, but it was nice to get that one on the last,' said Buckle, who was 13th on the Nationwide Tour money list last year.
Not out of the picture are former major winners Mark Calcavecchia (68) and Rich Beem (73), who are tied with five others at 8-under 208 -- just three shots back.
Phil Mickelson remained a non-factor, tied for 40th place at 213 following a 73. Vijay Singh (74) is two shots further back.
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