Tulsa — Tiger Woods, continuing his incredible comeback from severe leg injuries, teed off in Saturday’s third round of the PGA Championship at storm-hit Southern Hills hoping to take advantage of rain-soaked greens and make an early charge.
The 15-time major winner, badly hurt in a February 2021 car crash, grinded to a one-under par 69 on Friday to stand on three-over 143 and make the cut.
Lightning and heavy overnight rain delayed the start by 37 minutes as Woods, wearing special spiked shoes to enhance stability on wet grass, began 28 minutes later than first expected alongside South African Shaun Norris.
“The rough will play thicker,” said Australian Jason Day, the 2015 PGA winner. “The course will play longer. The course will suit more of a longer hitter.”
Spectators cheered as Woods sent his opening tee shot into the fairway. Fans have packed the course to view Woods, who drew applause at each of his first 36 holes.
Woods, 46, was hospitalised for weeks and unable to walk for months but recovered well enough to return in April at the Masters, where he shared 47th and was pleased at being able to walk all 72 holes.
Former world number one Woods, now ranked 818th, said his surgically repaired right leg hurt after an opening 74, but vows he still has a chance to win, even though he began the weekend 12 strokes behind US leader Will Zalatoris.
“There’s a reason why you fight hard and you’re able to give yourself a chance on the weekend,” Woods said. “You just never know when you might get hot. This weekend I’m going to have to go low.”
With wind direction shifting due to the storm and damp greens more receptive than before, Woods hopes an early start will provide better conditions than leaders face later.
“Hopefully I can post a good round and at least move up the board, get myself within striking distance on Sunday,” Woods said. “I’m pretty far back, but you just never know.”
Woods requires ice baths and physical therapy between rounds to enable his right leg — held together by rods, plates, screws and pins — to have the strength to walk the 7,556-yard course.
Zalatoris, who fired a bogey-free 65 on Friday to grab the lead on nine-under 131, leads Chile’s Mito Pereira by one as both chase a first major title.
Three past major champions, however, are hot on their heels.
Ninth-ranked American Justin Thomas, the 2017 PGA winner, was third on 134 after shooting 67 Friday in the most brutal of winds, which faded for afternoon starters like the lead duo.
Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson made nine birdies, his most in any major round, and matched the course record with a 63 to stand fourth on 135.
Watson had a chance to match the all-time major low round with a 62 but the American missed a 23-foot putt on the 18th hole, settling for a share of the Southern Hills standard set by Ray Floyd and equaled by Woods in his 2007 PGA victory.
Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, the world number seven from Northern Ireland who led after 18 holes, shared fifth on 136 with Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and American Davis Riley on 136.