Commentary

Tiger Woods sitting in familiar spot

Updated: December 8, 2013, 3:40 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The annual holiday cash grab thrown by Tiger Woods that is also a fun-filled week at a posh Southern California country club turned a bit nasty on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesTiger Woods enters the final round of the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge with a 2-shot lead. In his career on the PGA Tour, Woods has converted 39 of 41 outright leads after 54 holes into victories.

The weather was more befitting the holiday season, and only the hardiest of souls would bother with golf on such an occasion. Steady rain at Sherwood Country Club turned to sunshine by early afternoon, but with it came a brisk wind and plenty of discomfort.

"That was work," Zach Johnson said after he came off the course following the third round of the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge.

For his part, Johnson made sure that Woods will have to work for a victory in his own tournament, being played here for the last time.

Both players shot even-par 72, with Woods maintaining a 2-stroke advantage heading into the final round of the $3.5 million tournament. Bubba Watson is 4 back with Matt Kuchar in fourth place, 7 strokes behind.

It very well could come down again to a battle between Woods and Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion who gave Tiger all he could handle here in 2011. That day, Woods birdied the last two holes to win by one, his first victory anywhere in more than two years.

Since then, he has gone on to win eight times; a victory Sunday would be his sixth this year.

"I have five wins and four seconds here at this place," Woods said. "Sherwood has certainly fit my eye, and I would love to win here. It would mean a lot to us at the (Tiger Woods) Foundation, and I'm going to try and get it done and then move to my old home course next year where I've played hundreds of rounds."

Now in its 15th year, Woods' tournament is moving from California to Florida, leaving the area where he grew up and where his foundation is based. It will make for a bittersweet day either way.

Or maybe just bitter.

The weather has been unseasonably cold for this part of the world, with frost delays the first two days and the rain that fell for the early part of the third round. With more frost in the forecast Sunday, the tournament has gone to a two-tee start -- even though the field has just 18 players.

Woods knows it won't be easy. Not with the cold weather, and not with Johnson in pursuit.

"Zach's not going anywhere," Woods said. "He's consistent. He's tough. And he's proven he can win major championships ... he's just tough to beat."

After shooting 62 on Friday, hitting 12 of 13 fairways and all 18 greens, Woods found -- as is typically the case -- that it was difficult to keep up that pace. He missed only three fairways and just four greens Saturday, but took 33 putts -- five more than on Friday.

The result was a score that was 10 strokes higher, but one that was bettered by just four players. The low score Saturday was 68.

"You ask a lot of guys on tour, and shooting something that is 9 or 10 deep (under par) is obviously very difficult to do," Woods said. "Shooting back-to-back 66s or 65s is much easier. If you play the par-5s well, there's 4 (-under). You make a couple putts, there's 2 or 3 more. Boom. That's 6- or 7-under. But to get to that 9, 10 level ... it's a lot more difficult to do. And to be consistent (on) more than one day is really hard to do."

Woods admitted his putting was off and that he "left a few out there," but he still heads into the final day in a position from which he has always been tough to beat.

In his PGA Tour career, Woods has converted a 54-hole lead 39 of 41 times when he had the outright advantage.

"If you get the lead, it's totally different," he said. "They gotta come get you."

Woods knows this drill quite well. He has a comfort level when being in front, and can gauge what the competition is doing. Should he fail to convert, it would be a mild surprise, but would be of little impact going forward -- and a victory certainly would not have the same meaning as the one he got here two years ago after such a lengthy drought.

But Woods plays to win, and his foundation stands to gain a substantial sum -- he has always donated his prize money, which is $1 million for first place -- if he manages to prevail.

The rest of the field is enduring a bit more hardship for the purse, which pays out to $100,000 for last place. Then again, playing golf in the cold isn't such a bad deal at that price.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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