Tiger Woods surges ahead at Bay Hill

Updated: March 23, 2013, 8:21 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Defending champion Tiger Woods put himself in position to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the eighth time, making his third eagle of the tournament and shooting a 6-under 66 on Saturday to take a two-shot lead.

Woods would move back to No. 1 in the world for the first time since Oct. 31, 2010, with a victory Sunday at the Bay Hill Club.

"Just because I've won here doesn't ensure that I'm going to win the tournament," Woods said. "The conditions are different. The game might be different, but the objective is still to put myself in position to win the golf tournament and somehow get it done on Sunday. Over the course of my career I've done a pretty decent job of that."

Woods was at 11-under 205, two shots ahead of Rickie Fowler (67), John Huh (71) and 36-hole co-leader Justin Rose, who at one point was six shots ahead of Woods. Rose had a 39 on the back nine and wound up with a 72.

Woods surged past Rose with an eagle at the par-5 16th -- where he knocked it into the water on Friday. That gave him three eagles for the week, one less than he had all of last year.

Woods then parred the 17th and 18th holes -- which he had bogeyed each of the first two rounds -- to put himself in a position from which he has been very strong in his career.

Woods, 37, has converted 51-of-55 times on the PGA Tour when he's had at least a share of the 54-hole lead, the last coming two weeks ago at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, where he won for the 76th time in his PGA Tour career.

"I played halfway decent today," said Woods, who had 25 putts after taking 28 in each of the first two rounds. "Made a few putts. That's what I was pleased with."

A victory would be Woods' third of the year, the most for him going into the Masters since 2008 -- which is also the last year he won a major.

Woods began the third round four strokes back of Rose and Bill Haas and at one point was six shots behind Rose, who started quickly with birdies at the first and third and an eagle at the fifth.

But Rose cooled off after that. Woods, meanwhile, made birdies at the fourth, sixth, seventh and 10th holes, four times saving par after missing greens through the first nine. His lone bogey came at the par-4 13th, where he hit a poor bunker shot and failed to get up and down. He added another birdie at the 15th, then an eagle at the 16th, where his approach from 183 yards stopped 20 feet away.

Woods rolled in the putt and is now 10 under on the par-5s this week.

Rose had a three-shot lead on the back nine until he crumbled, making three bogeys over the last six holes.

He didn't even make it into the final group.

Fowler dropped only one shot on a muggy day with a short burst of showers, closing with a par from the back bunker on the 18th. The last time Fowler and Woods were paired together in the final round was at the Memorial, where Woods closed with a 67 to win and Fowler had an 84.

Fowler was only three shots behind going into the final round of the Honda Classic at the start of the Florida swing and closed with a 74. He also had a bad Sunday at Doral (78), though he was never in serious contention. Without knowing where his 67 would leave him at Bay Hill, he sounded determined to finish stronger.

"I'm feeling good about the pairing, about my game," Fowler said. "He's definitely the guy to beat, but I'll be right there to see what's going on. With him having leads on courses he loves like this and Torrey Pines and Doral, and I'm sure there are others, he's basically never lost with a lead in the final round.

"So I'm going in there with the attitude that I have nothing to lose and we'll see what happens from there."

Nine players were separated by three shots going into the final round, though the dynamic takes on a different vibe at Bay Hill. Woods can tie a PGA Tour record for most victories at one tournament. Sam Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times.

Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark had a 66 and was in the group at 8-under 208, along with Jimmy Walker (70), Haas (73), Ken Duke (70) and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano of Spain, who played with Woods and had a 68.

Woods narrowly beat the Spaniard a year ago in the opening round of the Match Play Championship. Fernandez-Castano noticed a big difference one year later.

"He's definitely more comfortable," he said. "I remember at the Match Play, his routine was longer. You could see he wasn't confident with what he was doing."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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