| Tiger Woods fires out of the bunker on the eleventh green, his second hole of play, in the second round of the Bay Hill Invitational in Orlando Saturday. (Reuters)
Orlando: Tiger Woods is on the verge of his third win of the season and fourth in a row at the $ 4.5 million Bay Hill Invitational after storming into a five-shot lead Saturday. Woods played 29 holes in the day, tidying up a seven-under 65 second round before shooting a third-round 66 to reach 15-under 201.
Brad Faxon (65) is alone in second at 10-under-par, while Stewart Cink (70) is third at eight under. Sadly, the much-anticipated duel between world number two Ernie Els and Woods failed to materialise.
By the time Woods was finished with his second round in the morning, he was four shots ahead of Els.
In the afternoon, the South African shot an even-par 72 and appeared to be hampered by a nagging wrist injury. “I always knew the key to this golf course was the par fives,” Woods said of his success over the 7,239-yard Bay Hill course. “With my length, I should be able to get to every par five, and with that in mind I should be able to walk off with four.”
Woods is 10-under-par on the par-fives this week, including eight birdies on the par-fives in the second and third rounds.
A Woods victory seems all but inevitable given the fact that five shots is his biggest lead ever at Bay Hill after three rounds and that his PGA Tour record when sharing or holding the 54-hole lead is 27 victories from 29 attempts.
“You’ve still got to go out there and make birdies, because obviously, if he (Faxon) goes out there and shoots an eight-under-par round, I’ve still got to shoot under-par in order to win,” Woods said. “But to play the par-fives the way I’ve been playing them, I think is the key.”
Faxon will need to play better than he did the last time he was paired with Woods in the final group, last month at the Buick Invitational.
Faxon was one-shot back after 54 holes, but could only manage a final round 72 and lost by five strokes.
“It would be a great story, wouldn't it,” Faxon said of potentially overcoming the huge deficit and beating Woods. “This is my second chance.”
Els started well, making birdie on the first hole to move within three shots of the lead at six-under-par.
He would then turn in a pedestrian 72, losing all contact with Woods by the sixth hole when Woods chipped in for birdie and Els made bogey.
“I’m a little disappointed; the conditions were perfect today to go low,” Els said of his first head-to-head showdown with Woods in 2003. “I wasn’t quite comfortable, the hand wasn’t all that great today. I felt like I hung in there, I played the last four holes really well, so I’m really happy about that.”
Els injured his hand hitting a punching bag at his home in London prior to arriving at Bay Hill and needed treatment.
Even Woods saw some problems with Els swing. “You could tell he was struggling with his swing a little bit,” Woods said. “He never hit the ball as clean, as crisp, as he normally does.”