MIAMI (AP) — Tiger Woods made it all look so routine, from a 4-iron into 10 feet for eagle on the opening hole to the most simple par on the final hole to build a four-shot lead on a Blue Monster course he has tamed the last three years.
Then he was off to Key Biscayne to watch Roger Federer.
Saturday at the CA Championship might have been Woods’ version of game, set and match.
With only one mistake on a windy day loaded with them, Woods shot a 4-under 68 to seize control at another World Golf Championship, putting him in prime position to win at Doral for the third straight year in his final tournament before the Masters.
Woods is 30-1 when he takes a lead into the final round on the PGA Tour. His only loss with a 54-hole lead came at age 20 in the 1996 Quad City Classic, his third tournament as a professional.
“We all know when he’s at his best,” Thomas Bjorn said, “he’s very difficult.”
The evidence would suggest no one has a spitting chance.
Even when Woods’ lead was whittled to one after his streak of 29 holes without a bogey ended on No. 6, he answered with consecutive birdies to restore the lead and then let Ernie Els and his other challengers fall away. Woods was at 11-under 205.
Brett Wetterich, who had never met Woods until they became Ryder Cup teammates in August, shot 67 and will be paired with him in the final group, and for the first time in competition.
About the only intrigue came from Sergio Garcia.
Disgusted by missing yet another short putt, the 27-year-old Spaniard tapped in for a three-putt bogey and then spit into the cup. Garcia didn’t deny this lapse in etiquette, only its effect on the guys playing behind him.
“I just missed the putt and I wasn’t too happy,” Garcia told NBC Sports. “Don’t worry. It did go in the middle (of the cup) and wasn’t going to affect anyone else. If it did, I would have wiped it off.”
Asked about the incident after the TV interview, he snapped, “I just said it. I’m not going to repeat it.”
Along with owning Doral, Woods has won this WGC event the last two years (in San Francisco and London), and five out of seven times. He will be trying to win his 13th world title since the series began in 1999.
“If you’re leading, usually you’re playing halfway decent,” Woods said. “Hopefully, tomorrow I can handle my business.”
Nick O’Hern, who ended Woods’ seven-tournament winning streak on the PGA Tour by beating him in the Accenture Match Play Championship a month ago, played bogey-free for a 66 and was another shot behind at 6-under 210.
Everyone else had their chances. Most everyone else ran into trouble.
Ernie Els got to within one shot of the lead midway through the round until he quit making birdies, then took double bogey on the 18th hole that started with an errant drive and ended with a bunker shot that went over the green. He had to settle for a 71 and, for the third straight day, the Big Easy refused to speak to reporters.
Els was in the group at 211 that included Vijay Singh (69), Thomas Bjorn (71), Aaron Baddeley (71) and Charles Howell III, whose bogey on the final hole ruined a spirited rally and left him with a 71.
Woods had a two-shot lead that he quickly expanded with his eagle putt.
“Couldn’t ask for a better start,” Woods said.
He made only his third bogey of the tournament when he came up short of the sixth green, chipped to 6 feet and missed the put. Wetterich and Els were already making a move, with the South African hitting a delicate bunker shot on the par-5 eighth to 4 feet and grazing the cup on several other birdie putts.
Woods fixed that quickly. He hit a 9-iron about 10 feet right of the flag on No. 7, and after having to lay up from out of the rough on the par-5 eighth, his sand wedge stopped 3 feet from the cup to reach 10 under and restore the cushion.
Wetterich, who went out in 32, was the only one who stayed steady on the back nine in a mixture of showers and sunshine, and the constant present of a strong wind. He followed a bogey on the 15th with a birdie on the 16th. He sent his drive well to the right on the 18th, but was able to reach the green and two-putt from 65 feet.
His only victory was the Byron Nelson Championship last year during a hot summer stretch that helped him make the Ryder Cup team. But he’s one of the longest hitters in golf, and is not afraid to fire at flags.
That’s what Wetterich might have to do.
“You can’t sit back and be happy with making pars,” he said.
Wetterich has never played with Woods in competition. In fact, he had never met the world’s No. 1 player until Woods introduced himself to him at Firestone last year, then took all the Ryder Cup rookies to dinner.
Divots: Davis Love III withdrew Saturday after learning a friend of the family had died in Sea Island, Ga. … Phil Mickelson was bogey-free for the third round and 4 under for the day until a double bogey on the 18th sent him to a 70. … Els is 4 over on the 18th hole this week. … Mark Calcavecchia threw out his shoes after Friday’s round because of blisters. He wore a new pair Saturday and reported no problems. “My right foot still hurts,” he said.