Johnson overhauls leader Woods with eagle finish

Monday, 5 December 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Reuters: Tiger Woods endured a challenging day in gusting winds before finally surrendering his overnight lead to fellow American Zach Johnson in Saturday’s third round of the Chevron World Challenge.

Three strokes clear of the chasing pack at the tournament’s halfway point, four-times champion Woods battled to a one-over-par 73 on a sunny but chilly afternoon at Sherwood Country Club.

In pursuit of his first victory in more than two years, Woods bogeyed two of the last six holes for a seven-under total 209, finishing a stroke behind Johnson who spectacularly eagled the par-four last with a seven-iron from 163 yards for a 68.

Johnson, whose only major title came at the 2007 Masters, covered the hilly back nine in four under to take control of the elite 18-man event going into Sunday’s final round.

First-round leader KJ Choi of South Korea (72) was alone in third at five under, two shots better than Americans Gary Woodland (70), Hunter Mahan (73) and Matt Kuchar (74).

“It was tough out there,” tournament host Woods told reporters after mixing four birdies with five bogeys as unpredictable winds gusted up to 35 mph (56.33 kph). “The wind was very gusty and swirling all over the place. It was really tough to pull a club and hit a shot.

“Even though I made three bogeys on the (five) par-fives and I had two three-putts, I played well. I hit a lot of good shots that ended up in bad spots because I had bad gusts.

“I just need to make a few more putts,” added Woods, who has not won a tournament since the 2009 Australian Masters while his world ranking has dropped to 52nd. “I’m right there with a chance going into tomorrow.”

Johnson was delighted to end the day atop the leaderboard after starting his round four strokes off the pace.

“Today was good, and it wasn’t easy with the wind,” the 35-year-old said. “I got off to a pretty shaky start but made some nice saves, and then had a lot of opportunities and didn’t make any of those.

“Then I got going, and ended on a pretty stylish note,” he added of the seven-iron from the 18th fairway that curved to the left in the wind before the ball bounced a couple of times on the green then disappeared into the cup.

“When it left my club, I thought it was pretty good.

“I knew if it went a little long, it would come back (down the slope) and I would have a birdie opportunity. That’s all you’re looking for.”

Woods made a red-hot start to the third round, hitting a superb approach from the left rough to within two feet of the cup to set up a tap-in birdie at the par-four first.

However, he failed to maintain momentum as the Santa Ana winds continually gusted and shifted across the Jack Nicklaus-designed layout.

A three-putt bogey at the par-five second was followed by a chip-in for birdie from behind the green at the fourth, prompting loud roars from the gallery and a characteristic fist pump by Woods.

He then bogeyed the sixth, where he missed the green to the left with his approach, and the eighth, after three-putting, to reach the turn in one-over 37 and a stroke in front of the chasing pack.

Though he birdied the par-four 10th, after his drive ended up to the right of the green, and the par-five 11th, where he two-putted from 15 feet, Johnson was fast closing in.

After recording nine consecutive pars on the front nine, Johnson caught fire after the turn, eagling the 11th and making birdies at the 12th and 13th to trail Woods by just one.

Woods dropped back into a tie for the lead at eight under after bogeying 13 before Johnson also faltered, bogeying 16 after hitting a wayward drive and a second shot that ended up well left under trees by the cart path.

Johnson also bogeyed the par-three 17th to slip two strokes back before ending his round with his eagle flourish.