PONTE VEDRA BEACH (Florida) • It was just like the halcyon days of a previous era as Tiger Woods carded his best ever score at TPC Sawgrass, a seven-under 65, in the third round of the Players Championship on Saturday.
Woods, a 79-time winner on the PGA Tour, was in control of all facets of his game and wielded a hot putter to record his lowest numerical score on the PGA Tour since 2015. Through his first 12 holes, he made eight birdies.
It was also his best score under par since 2013, though he has played only sparingly in the ensuing five years while nursing a serious back injury.
After making the cut with nothing to spare on Friday, he teed off trailing halfway leader Webb Simpson by 14 strokes on another perfect morning.
"I finally got off to a good start," said Woods, who started birdie-birdie, hit 11 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens, and had 27 putts.
"I birdied the first couple of holes, and I just kept it rolling from there. I hit a lot of good shots today. It was nice to see a few putts go in. I hit a lot of, overall, the whole day, a lot of quality shots, and 65 was probably as high as I could have shot today, which was kind of nice."
At eight-under 208, he finished the day 11 strokes behind Simpson.
The latter increased his advantage with a 68, the highlight of which was holing out from a bunker for eagle at the par-five 11th.
The 2012 US Open champion's 19-under total of 197 matched the tournament 54-hole record held by Greg Norman.
He also held a record seven-stroke lead over New Zealander Danny Lee (70).
"I've been a pro since 2008 and you never know when a week like this will come," said the 32-year-old Simpson, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour.
For Woods, whose best score in 65 previous rounds at TPC Sawgrass was a 66, which he shot in 2001, the year he captured the first of his two Players titles, Saturday's performance was the latest positive sign.
The 42-year-old is trying to regain sharpness after last year's successful spinal fusion.
His lowest previous rounds this season had been four-under efforts at the Valspar Championship, where he tied for second, and the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
"Eventually, I was going to put all the pieces together, and today for the most part I did that," he said.
He was set to play yesterday's final round with fellow American Jordan Spieth, who matched Woods for Saturday's low round.
Woods' caddie Joe LaCava was not surprised by the quality of his boss' iron game.
"If he can drive it well I'm never really worried about his iron game," LaCava said, while at the same time tempering expectations. "It's one round so you don't want to get too far ahead of yourself."
Fellow competitor Mackenzie Hughes was more bullish after playing with Woods for the first time.
"The guy's going to win (more) Majors," said Hughes, who watched the 14-time Major champion hoist a four-iron some 255 yards over a row of trees to the back of the green at the par-five ninth.
"It's a shot I probably couldn't make but I matched his birdie," the 27-year-old Canadian said after shooting 68.