- Tiger Woods made eight birdies en route to a seven-under 65 on Saturday at the Players Championship. It's his lowest round ever at TPC Sawgrass, his lowest round since returning from spinal fusion surgery, and his lowest round in relation to par since 2013.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — After a sleepy 72-71 start saw Tiger Woods squeak by the 36-hole cut at the Players Championship, Woods remained optimistic as ever. He spoke about putting together two mid-60s rounds on the weekend and did so with an understated confidence that suggested he believed it was possible.
On a sweaty Saturday morning at TPC Sawgrass, Woods accomplished the first half of that goal by shooting a seven-under 65 to get to eight-under for the tournament. It’s his lowest round ever at the Players, his lowest round since he returned from spinal fusion surgery and his lowest round in relation to par since a 61 at the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
“65 was actually about the highest I could have shot today,” Woods said after the round. “So that was nice."
After lamenting lackluster starts to his round over the first two days, the 14-time major and two-time Players champion finally got off to a good start on Moving Day. He striped a driver off the first tee then stuck a sand wedge to 15 feet below the hole, and hit a beautiful right-to-left putt that fell right into the center of the hole.
He then built on that momentum on the par-5 2nd, where he got up and down from left of the green to get to two-under after 2.
“I wish I could repeat it more often, but honestly it was just a better start,” Woods said. "I got off to a much better start. Piped one down 1 and just had a fip sand wedge in there, and finally was able to convert.”
It was at the 4th hole when it began to look like a really low one was possible. Woods hit a patented squeeze-cut stinger that found the center of the fairway then hit a wedge approach that looked like it might find the water left of the green. But when you’re on, sometimes the course throws you a bone, and his Bridgestone ball took a nice kick right and finished about nine feet from the cup. Woods poured that in, then added yet another birdie at the difficult fifth.
At that point, it appeared that the moment was having an effect on Tiger’s playing partner MacKenzie Hughes, a 27-year-old PGA Tour rookie from Canada who was playing with Woods—and all that comes with playing with Woods—for the first time. Hughes was two-over at the time and six behind Woods, but outplayed Tiger coming in and finished with, given the circumstances, a distinctly impressive 68.
Back to the main event: Tiger. He is, after all, always the main event at any tournament he enters, as evidenced by the massive crowds following a player who started the day 14 shots behind 36-hole leader Webb Simpson.
After a momentum-saving up-and-down par on 6, Tiger hit another wedge inside 10 feet on 7 and dropped that to reach five under. Woods’ ability to give himself makeable birdie putts was the main difference Saturday, as he struggled to convert opportunities with his short irons and wedges over the first two days here in Northeast Florida.
“I hit the ball much better during warm-up,” Woods said. I felt I had better control of hitting it right-to-left and left-to-right.”
That, and a red-hot putter. Woods missed only one putt inside 10 feet all day and finished with 2.9 strokes gained putting for the round. His other statistics were as impressive as you’d expect: 11/14 fairways, 15/18 greens and just 27 putts.
While it didn’t lead to a birdie, Woods hit one of his best shots of the day at the difficult par-3 8th, a butter cut 3-iron that finished perfectly pin high and led to a routine par. He then hit two perfect shots and two-putted for birdie on the par-5 9th for a front-nine 30 that sent a palpable jolt through Sawgrass.
The picture-perfect ball striking continued during the opening holes of the back-nine, as Woods hit a soaring 3-iron that set up an eagle attempt on the par-5 11th. He would eventually make birdie and added another, his eighth of the day, on the very next hole.
That birdie at 12 would turn out to be his last birdie of the day, as he missed makeable attempts at 13 and 18 coming down the stretch. He made his lone bogey of the day at 14 after missing the fairway to the right for the third consecutive day.
Woods had nudged his way all the way up to a tie for 8th by the end of his round, but he would not allow any illusion to seep into his mind regarding his chances of winning this tournament. He was still seven back of Simpson even after posting the 65.
“I think that some of the guys will probably shoot better scores than I did out there today,” he said. “It’s set up for these guys to go low.”
Still, shooting 65 on a golf course where disaster is never far away is an encouraging sign for a player who, just eight short months ago, didn’t know whether he’d be able to compete on Tour ever again.
Perhaps Hughes' assessment of this version of Tiger Woods, whom he saw up close and personal, is worth considering.
"The guy is gonna win majors," he told ESPN. "The guy is gonna win a ton more here soon."