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Tiger Woods is on fire and charging up the The Players leaderboard

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The putter is one and the two-time Players champ is rocketing up the leaderboard at TPC Sawgrass.

A spate of bogeys from Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, and a couple others late Friday night suddenly shifted the cut line at the Players Championship and gave Tiger Woods new life. For much of the afternoon, it looked like Tiger would miss the cut by a shot at TPC Sawgrass. Then came that late adjustment just before 7 p.m. ET and the top 70 (and ties) now included all those at 1-under. Tiger got another shot at 36 more holes.

It was a gift not just to him but it turns out for all of us, too, as he’s now torching TPC Sawgrass to the ground early on Saturday morning. Woods poured in five birdies in his first seven holes of the third round, making a dramatic leap up the board. He started the day in a tie for 69th and walked off the 7th hole, just 90 minutes into his round, in a tie for 17th.

The charge has come largely on the back of his putter, the club that was hot garbage last week in Charlotte. Woods has just eight putts through his first seven holes. It started right on the first hole with when he put this 15-footer right in the center.

By the fifth hole, he knew he had something cooking with that club. It was there that he converted an unlikely birdie chance by draining this 17-footer that elicited our only big fist pump of the day so far.

There’s been no great dramatic shot so far in this round. Tiger is just nuking it off the tee, keeping it in the fairway, and then setting up these moderate-length birdie chances. There’s been no hole-out or outrageous approach shot — just steady tee-to-green work and a hot run with the putter.

Tiger started the day at 1-under and is not 6-under and while that tie for 17th would mean he’s right back in the thick of it with a round and half to go, he has a Webb Simpson problem.

The 36-hole leader has also torched Sawgrass and should have set a new course record on Friday night. Simpson started the day a good five shots clear of anyone else and a massive 14-shots ahead of Tiger. The largest 36-hole deficit that turned into a win was seven strokes and came from the diminutive Tim Clark back in 2010.

Woods would need a real miracle and a lot of help from the group ahead of him to somehow be in contention come Sunday night. But as I wrote last night, let’s just enjoy the shots in a vacuum right now. This time last year Tiger has just had his spine fused and could barely walk and it seemed likely he would never play on Tour again. Now he’s giving us a Saturday morning show at the game’s “fifth major.”


UPDATES

  • No. 9: Tiger made easy work of the par-5 9th hole, a spot that’s a must-make birdie if you really want to turn in a special score. This was the spot where Tiger made eagle on Thursday afternoon. That had really been his only highlight through the first two days and it came he launched a mid-iron up and over the trees to the back of the green. He made a similar shot on Saturday, and the ball ran out to the back of the green where he two-putted from 40-feet for his sixth birdie of the front nine. He’s out in 30, giddyup!

  • No. 11: Tiger gets his 7th birdie of the day, and his first on the back nine, at the par-5 11th hole. Woods landed safely on the green in two again, much like at No. 9, as the ball ran some 50 feet past the hole. But a steady two-putt from there added the red number without much stress and he’s now tied for eighth at 8-under.
  • No. 12: The 12th hole is a driveable par-4 but there’s plenty of trouble and fast ways to make a mess of it. Tiger pulled a driving iron and pushed it out to the right. We got that traditional Tiger cursing as soon as the ball sailed right, as he called himself a “jackass” and “f**king idiot” on the tee. But an incredible approach shot put him to just seven feet, and he rolled it in without much drama. Tiger stalked it into the cup, waking after it before it had even dropped.

He’s now tied for fifth! This is outrageous and the course record of 63 is within sight.

  • No. 14 was the scene of our first bogey of the day. It’s a hole that has tormented Tiger in recent years. He can never seem to find the fairway and after putting it some mounds to the right the first two days this week, he did it again on Saturday. He also caught an awful lie and had no chance to get home in two. An underwhelming chip shot resulted in the two-putt bogey but it all started with that wildness off the tee, which is what’s hindered Tiger throughout this comeback season. He’s back to a tie for 8th and a shot at the course record is probably gone.

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