Tiger Woods 4 back at Pebble Beach

Updated: February 12, 2012, 8:18 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- One of the game's most iconic venues has long been associated with its most famous player, going back to Tiger Woods' historic U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach in 2000.

But where would a victory here this week rank?

Woods at least gave life to such a discussion Saturday when he shot up the leaderboard at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, shooting a 5-under-par 67 to move into third place, four strokes behind Charlie Wi and one behind Ken Duke.

Phil Mickelson, who shot 70 at Pebble Beach and is a three-time winner there, is tied for fourth along with two-time Pebble Beach winner Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan, Kevin Na and Brendon Todd.

Mickelson and Woods are paired together in the second-to-last group for Sunday's final round.

It is the fourth straight stroke-play event in which Woods has been in contention, but a victory Sunday over the same Pebble Beach course he played Saturday would be his first official win in more than two years.

"That's why we play is to be there and that's why I train as hard as I do and practice as hard as I do is to put myself in those positions," Woods said. "And when you're not in those positions, it's frustrating because the majority of the time when we play golf, we are not in those positions. That's the tough part of our sport.

"So of late, I've been putting myself in these positions, and it feels good."

Wi, 40, knows Woods going back to their junior golf days in Southern California and through college, when Woods was at Stanford and Wi became and All-American during his senior year at Cal.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezTiger Woods trails leader Charlie Wi by four strokes after three rounds at Pebble Beach.

But they quite obviously went different directions as professionals. Woods has won 71 times on the PGA Tour, including 14 major championships. His official worldwide win total is 83. Wi, meanwhile, has never won on the PGA Tour and has a single European Tour victory at the Malaysian Open six years ago.

"He's won 70 some times and I'm trying to get my first, and I have a lot more pressure on me than he does," Wi said.

Wi, who shot 9-under-par 61 on Thursday at Monterey Peninsula, had 69 on Friday at Pebble Beach and 69 on Saturday at Spyglass Hill, considered the easiest of the three venues. He did not make a bogey.

After all of the competitors and their pro-am partners played each venue once, with a 54-hole cut to the top 60 and ties, those who advanced will play Pebble Beach on Sunday for the final round. The top 25 pro-am teams also advance, and as it played out, Wi, Duke, Woods and Mickelson will all have their amateur partners alongside them.

Woods started slowly in cold, rainy conditions, making a bogey at the par-3 12th after failing to give himself good birdie opportunities at his first two holes. But that bogey seemed to motivate him, as Woods birdied five of the next six holes to shoot 4-under-par 32 on the back nine. His run started with a good bounce at the 13th hole, where an approach headed for the rough kicked onto the green and within close range for a birdie.

Included was a 22-footer for birdie at the 15th, another 22-footer at the 17th and an 8-footer at the 18th. By then, the growing crowd was buzzing as Woods was again making another Saturday charge.

But on the front side, which includes Pebble's best scoring holes, Woods stalled, making just a single birdie at the par-5 second, the easiest hole on the course.

Duke, ranked 258th in the world, has never won on the PGA Tour and is back after playing 2011 on the Nationwide Tour in 2011. He shot 65 on Saturday at Monterey Peninsula.

So chasing two guys who have combined for zero victories will be two who have combined for 110.

Mickelson, ranked 17th, is playing his fourth straight week and is off to a mediocre start, with a missed cut surrounded by two lackluster finishes. Despite a bogey at the par-5 second on Saturday, he managed to get himself within striking distance, six strokes back.

"I'm in a nice situation where if I can get a hot hand early, I can make a run on the leaderboard," Mickelson said.

Woods, meanwhile, has been building to this point going back to November in Australia, where he finished third at the Australian Open, two strokes behind winner Greg Chalmers.

At the Chevron World Challenge in December, a non-official event that nonetheless offers world ranking points, Woods birdied the last two holes to win by one over Zach Johnson. It was his first victory since Woods' personal life unraveled in late 2009, leading to a break from the game and on-the-course struggles.

Woods, ranked 18th, made his season debut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, where he shared the 54-hole lead but fell two strokes shy of Englishman Robert Rock, who earned just his second career European Tour victory.

The negative: he failed to win with at least a share of the lead for the third time in five tries while also being unable to beat the unheralded Rock.

The positive: it was the fourth straight tournament, including the Presidents Cup, in which Woods' game was clearly on the rise.

And Pebble Beach apparently is another indicator of that. He shot 4-under 68 at Spyglass Hill on Thursday, followed by a disappointing 2-under 68 at Monterey Peninsula Country Club on Friday when he took 33 putts. That put him six strokes back of Wi, in a tie for 17th place.

While Woods made up just two strokes on Wi, he passed a slew of players, making the task of getting his 72nd PGA Tour victory a bit easier on Sunday.

"I'm definitely playing better," Woods said. "My misses are much tighter. The bad days and the bad shots really aren't as bad as they used to be."

The last time Woods came from behind to win was at the 2009 WGC Bridgestone Invitational, where he was 3 strokes back of Padraig Harrington heading into the final round. He also came from 4 back that year at the Memorial Tournament to win and from 5 down to capture the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Wi, ranked 175th, is well aware of the history, but he's got his own game to worry about.

"I'm sure I'll be fighting my demons all day tomorrow and it's how I handle myself," he said. "It's not what other players are doing."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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