Tiger leads entering final round at East Lake

Tiger leads entering final round at East Lake

Javier Howell
September 23, 2018

Tiger Woods is now the betting favorite to win the 2019 Masters. It turns out the real showdown will come much earlier than that.

Sunday will be the first ever time Woods and McIlroy play in the final group on the PGA Tour. It's a matchup long anticipated since McIlroy burst onto the PGA Tour, but one that has seldom materialized.

Woods has not been the closer of old in his return this year from a spinal fusion, most notably at the British Open at Carnoustie where he charged into the lead halfway through the final round before faltering.

He eventually cooled off for a five-under 65 and a three-shot lead over McIlroy, who fired a four-under 66, and Justin Rose, who carded a 68, at the East Lake Golf Course.

The chaos that constantly surrounds him can never be overstated. He birdied the first hole, then ran off five in a row starting at the third.

Woods has only lost twice in his career when leading after 54 holes, but in each of those losses his lead was two shots or fewer.

Tiger Woods is three shots ahead and one round away from capping his comeback season with a victory. He finished two back of Brooks Koepka.

"Things that didn't really feel abnormal, even though it's been years, literally years, since I've been in those spots. But for me, all I can do is concentrate on myself".

Woods poured in a 20-foot birdie putt on the first hole.

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While Woods could win on Sunday and still not necessarily claim the season-long FedExCup points race and the $10 million bonus that goes with it, Rose's fate is in his own hands.

"I hit so many quality shots all day, whether it was tee to green or it was putts", Woods said after his round. I'm seeing the arc of the putts. "I'm certainly much more equipped than I was in March because of what I've gone through".

Even so, this tournament is in Woods' hands.

"The crowds were electric", said Rose, who was paired with Woods. But they've never competed with the stakes as high as they are this week.

"The rough's brutal", Woods said. He has been there. He also has won enough times - 90 tournaments around the world - to remember how.

This one is heating up nicely.

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There used to be no chance against Woods when he was atop the leaderboard going into the final round.

"Look, he's a notoriously great front-runner". I've been playing well throughout the entire summer, just piecing it together, building, building and building. Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose are tied for second place at 9 under par. No other player is closer than six shots. Less than a year ago, he wasn't sure he'd even be playing golf again professionally at all, and now he's facing down the best of the next generation the same way he throttled the two previous ones. In January, he referred to the Abu Dhabi Championship as "the flawless place to start my campaign" and added that the Dubai Desert Classic holds "a special spot" in his heart, as it was his first win as a professional nine years ago. "And because of that, I felt comfortable when I got to Bay Hill, (and) when I grabbed the lead at The Open Championship", Woods said. "We'll see what happens".