Woods five back, but right in mix at Barclays

August, 27, 2009

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- When last we saw Tiger Woods entering the final round of a competitive event, he held a 2-stroke lead at the PGA Championship.

We all know how that one turned out.

Y.E. Yang rewrote the record books at Hazeltine National, becoming the first player to defeat Woods in come-from-behind fashion at a major championship, breaking his 14-for-14 career mark.

Tiger Woods

Chris Condon/Getty Images

In Rounds 1 and 2, Tiger Woods could manage to get around Liberty National in only a combined even par. After a 4-under 67 on Saturday, the world's No. 1 player has a chance to extend his points lead in the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Maybe the game's greatest closer needs a change of pace. Maybe he needs the challenge of playing "follow the leader." Maybe he needs to reassert his position as not only the best front-runner, but the best at playing from other places on the leaderboard, too.

No, Tiger has never won a major when trailing through 54 holes, but that doesn't mean it hasn't happened elsewhere. Of his 70 career PGA Tour victories, 19 have occurred when Woods' name was not atop the tournament on Saturday evening.

This is all relevant information considering the world's No. 1-ranked player will enter the final round of The Barclays in a share of seventh place, 5 shots behind co-leaders Paul Goydos and Steve Marino.

And yes, that's well within striking distance.

Following his third-round 4-under 67 and before the leaders had completed their day, Woods was asked where he needs to be in relation to the leader going into Sunday.

"Well, I guess anything seven or less," he said. "I've done that before."

Actually, Woods shortchanged himself with that analysis, apparently forgetting he came from 8 strokes down at the 1998 Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand. That day he shot 65 to force a playoff with Ernie Els that the world's No. 1 player would eventually win.

Counting only PGA Tour results, Tiger's biggest final-round comeback is 5 strokes, first accomplished on a Monday at the 2000 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and matched this March, when his closing 3-under 67 culminated with a dramatic 12-foot birdie putt to defeat Sean O'Hair at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

It's certainly possible that Woods could match that mark at Liberty National. The six players ahead of him on the leaderboard have combined for just 10 career wins -- Woods has five this season alone -- and only Steve Stricker (No. 6) is higher than 67th on the current Official World Golf Ranking.

Consider that no player ranked lower than 34th has ever triumphed at a FedEx Cup playoff event in eight instances so far. Add in that none of the top half-dozen on the leaderboard has ever won a major championship -- which is noteworthy since many players have considered this week's setup to be of major championship caliber -- and it's easy to see Woods climbing right back into the picture.

Delve even further into the numbers and you'll find that only three of the six players have earned a PGA Tour victory -- Stricker has six, Goydos and Heath Slocum own two apiece -- and none of 'em has ever prevailed in a field that included Woods.

Let's review one more time for emphasis: Six players will enter the final round ahead of Tiger on the leaderboard. None has ever won when he's been in the mix.

Of course, that doesn't mean the competition is ready to concede a title to Woods.

"I'm sure he's probably going to play pretty well tomorrow," said Marino, who is seeking his first PGA Tour title. "He always seems to play well on Sundays. But I can't control what he does. I can only control what I do and I feel like if I play well, being 5 ahead of him, I shouldn't really have to worry about him if I play well."

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Goydos also said he won't be looking over his shoulder -- literally, at least.

"He's going to be in front of me, not behind me. So I'll be looking straight ahead," Goydos quipped. "You can shoot 65 or 64. The field staff in a sense will dictate that ability to shoot that score. But if the golf course is set up like it's been for the first three days, the level of difficulty, someone at 4 or 3 or 2 [under par] could shoot 7 or 8 under par. It wouldn't be a big surprise."

After opening rounds of 70-72 that left him at even-par through 36 holes, Woods got things to 4-under thanks to solid play Saturday, but it wasn't necessarily his A-game. He struggled with his swing at times, completely letting go of his driver after impact during his drive on No. 10 and later dumping a one-handed approach shot into the water hazard on the par-5 13th.

Even so, it seems like the same ol' story for Woods, who has exited the course muttering about his putting on countless occasions already this season.

"I drove it great all week. I've hit my irons really well," he said. "And I just haven't made anything. It's not like I've hit bad putts. They are just not going in."

Then again, Woods didn't blame user error on his putting woes, instead invoking Liberty National's unconventional greens.

"It's not too often where you have ... about half your putts were double-breaking putts," said Woods, who ranks 53rd in putting average and 60th in putts per round. "You're hitting in there 10 feet, 12 feet, 15 feet and they are double-breaking putts all the time. A lot of movement there."

It's because of these "two elephants," as Goydos called the double-breakers, that caddie Steve Williams has aided Tiger on getting the line and speed more so this week than ever before.

"Usually I read greens on my own and feel very comfortable with my reads but here, like I said, a lot of the putts are double-breaking putts," Tiger said. "I'll ask him, 'With my speed, is it going to move or not?' And, 'In the middle of the putt, what do you see it doing?' And things like that. It's just so different here."

So different and yet, if he were to claim The Barclays title, it would be much of the same, too. He is seeking his 20th career come-from-behind win on the PGA Tour. Sure, he's a world-class front-runner, but we may just see Tiger Woods' rallying prowess on display once again on Sunday.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

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