Woods still firm favourite of fans

A sea of adoring supporters - and their phones - watch Tiger Woods play his shot from the fourth tee during the third round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club on Saturday.
A sea of adoring supporters - and their phones - watch Tiger Woods play his shot from the fourth tee during the third round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club on Saturday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Crowds favour in-form American, gunning for first title since 2013, over world No. 1 Rose

ATLANTA (Georgia) • Marcus Lawton, a retired baseball player from Mississippi, stood behind the fifth green at East Lake Golf Club on Saturday listening to Tiger Woods play the fourth hole.

He did not even bother trying to see Woods, who was surrounded by an ever-swelling crowd of spectators, such was his predictability.

When a roar rose from the fourth green, Lawton turned to a stranger and said: "Add another birdie".

The American, who began the day tied for the lead with world No. 1 Justin Rose at seven under, birdied six of his first seven holes on the way to a five-under 65 to sit alone atop the leaderboard, three strokes ahead of his nearest challengers, Rose and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, after the third round of the Tour Championship.

"I got off to a nice start there," Woods said, adding with a smile, "Good Lord. This is a spot I'd much rather be in. I feel good about it.

"I've been playing well throughout the entire summer, just piecing it together, building, building and building."

Woods, who spent 683 non-consecutive weeks at the top of the men's rankings until his career was derailed by back pain and is gunning for his first PGA Tour title since 2013, was paired in the final grouping with Rose.

The Englishman, who has topped the rankings for two weeks and is in prime position to lift the FedExCup and its US$10 million (S$13.6 million) prize, shot a 68.

"He's playing against the No. 1 in the world right now, and he wants to show everybody he's still got it," Lawton said.

If that was Woods' message at the season-ender for the top 30 men, he delivered it with aplomb. From the opening hole, where he drained a 23-foot putt for a birdie, Woods conducted a clinic for his gallery.

"The crowds were fantastic," Woods' caddie, Joe LaCava, said. "They were polite to Rosey as well but obviously they were pro-Tiger. You can't help but feed off them."

The 42-year-old had history as a front runner of the highest order. He enjoyed the sole lead 44 times entering the final round.

Woods won the 2007 Tour Championship by eight strokes after taking a three-stroke lead into the final round. But that kind of dominance had been a distant, albeit vivid, memory for the world No. 21, who has had four back operations since 2014 and was limited to 12 Tour starts from 2015 to 2017.

His best showings since returning to the Tour in January, about nine months after spinal fusion surgery, were two second-placed finishes at the Valspar Championship in March and last month's PGA Championship.

But LaCava is pretty sure Woods has not forgotten his winning recipe.

"He's been a pretty good front runner in his whole career, and people want him to win so badly," he said.

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2018, with the headline 'Woods still firm favourite of fans'. Print Edition | Subscribe