In one sense, it was a familiar sight: Tiger Woods's name near the top of the leaderboard at the Memorial, a tournament he's won a record five times. But when you consider what he's been through in the last year—and how he started this golf tournament—it was a sight we never expected to see.
Despite playing the last three holes in two-over par, Woods shot a four-under 68 to get to nine-under for the tournament, and he was four behind the leaders when he finished his third round. In doing so, he sent a buzz throughout the grounds at Muirfield Village and injected life into one of the PGA Tour's signature events.
Because of his good play of late, it's sometimes hard to remember that this is just Woods is making just his 10th start since a yearlong absence to have spinal fusion surgery. He is now in position to pick up his third top-5 since the return, a proposition that looked most unlikely after his first nine holes on Thursday. Woods was four-over through his first seven holes in his opening round and turned in three-over 39, but he battled back to shoot an even-par 72.
He would follow that up with a 67 on Friday, a round that could have been much better had he putted better—he missed five putts inside five feet. That means he hit the ball beautifully, and that ball striking carried over to moving day.
Tiger parred his first four holes—including missing two makeable birdie efforts—before making an eagle 3 at the par-5 5th, a putt that truly jumpstarted the round.
He would also birdie 6 and 7 to play that three hole stretch in four-under, and at that point he trailed the leaders, who hadn't teed off, by just two.
Woods added another textbook birdie at 9, highlighted by a vintage stinger off the tee, to make the turn in five-under 31. He was 10-under for the tournament at that point.
The momentum hatled a bit on the back nine, which he started with five straight pars before an eventful par-5 15th hole. Woods opted for driver and hit a smother hook that looked to have found the water or trees, but he got a bit of a fortunate break and ended up only in thick rough. He managed to advance his second way down the fairway but hit an indifferent wedge to about 20 feet, but he curled in a left-to-right birdie putt to tie the lead. He punctuated with an emphatic fist pump.
But a troubly recent pattern reared its head again—multiple times this year, including in the third and fourth round of the Players, he has struggled to get low rounds into the clubhouse. That happened again on Saturday, as he three putted both 16 and 18 to limp into the clubhouse at nine-under.
After the round, Woods was visibly frustrated and said that the 68 was about the highest score he could have shot. It sounds odd to say after shooting 67-68 over the last two days, but Woods really could—and should—be a few shots closer to the lead than he is right now. He'll be pleased with his ball striking, which is good enough to win any tournament anywhere at the moment, but frustrated by the putting. At this point in his comeback, Woods is no longer content with simply seeing signs of progress. He feels ready to win, so he'll be frustrated that he's not closer to accomplishing that goal heading into Sunday.