Tiger Woods said he’s on the verge of putting it all together and winning his first PGA tournament in five years — if he can just start rolling the ball a little better on the greens.
The 42-year-old Woods made some significant progress in that area Saturday shooting a 3-under 68, but he was nine strokes behind leader Jason Day entering the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship and all but out of contention.
Woods’ sixth straight third round of par of better was promising, but it wasn’t good enough to make up a lot of ground — and certainly not as bold as the moves from Phil Mickelson (64) or Rory McIlroy (66). All three were tied at 2 over to start the day.
“I’m close,” said Woods. “I’m hitting the ball well enough to contend, to win this golf tournament, but I just haven’t made putts.”
Woods sensed after his round that others would go low, leaving him too far behind to catch them on Sunday.
“I feel like I’m hitting the ball well enough and just trending in the right direction for next week,” said Woods, who has won 79 career PGA Tour events and 105 professional tournaments overall.
The greens at Quail Hollow have perplexed Woods all week.
In his mind, the pace of the greens is faster than they really are. That forced Woods to make changes to his stroke Saturday.
“I made it a little more handsy, kind of like how we used to putt when greens were so slow on public courses,” Woods said. “So I put a little more hit into my stroke, put a little more load, a little more hit and it worked out good, I hit some good putts. Also left a few out there, too.”
Woods was one of several golfers who began the third round at 2 over par, but he took advantage of playing in the morning under overcast skies and an easier course setup than the previous two rounds.
Mickelson had his lowest round of the season. McIlroy three-putted the 18th and still shot 5 under.
“There was a little bit more moisture on the greens so you could give them a little more pace and not have them run six or eight feet by,” said Mickelson, who said he never knew a round of 7 under was possible when he teed off.
“The course was easier — maybe not quite 10 shots easier, but it was a few shots easier,” said McIlroy, who shot a 76 on Friday.
And as well as those star players performed, they couldn’t match Peter Uihlein, who shot 62 after a six-hole stretch that included five birdies and an eagle.
It was the best round at Quail Hollow since McIlroy’s 61 in the 2015 Wells Fargo Championship in which he crushed the field. McIlroy’s score came before a course change at Quail Hollow, when par was 72.
“My 61 was better,” McIlroy said with a laugh. “… It’s a different course. I mean, 9 under around this place is pretty good.”
Uihlein, who is seeking his first PGA Tour win, didn’t have much time to celebrate before being taken to be randomly drug tested.
“It’s totally ironic,” Uihlein said. “First low round of the year, I feel like, and I have to go (urinate) in a cup.”