A day after the 14-time major champion hit every green in regulation en route to a majestic 10-under par 62 that equaled his own Sherwood Country Club course record, Woods found the going tougher on a day that started in cold rain and ended with the sun shining and a chilly, unpredictable wind whipping.
Woods notched the last of his four birdies at the par-four 18th, balancing four bogeys as he built a 54-hole total of 11-under par 205 and maintained his two-stroke cushion over 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson. Johnson briefly took a one-stroke lead after a birdie at the ninth, but two-double bogeys -- at the par-three 12th and 15th -- kept him from applying more pressure.
He, too, birdied 18 to cap an even-par 72 for 207. "It was a tough day," Woods said. "The wind was all over the place. It was really tough to pull clubs, and even though the greens were softer, they were still pretty quick." Bubba Watson was alone in third after a 69 for 209. Watson's was one of just four rounds under par produced by the elite field of 18.
One of those belonged to former world number one Rory McIlroy, whose four-under 68 was an impressive low round of the day but still left him 13 shots off the lead after his struggles in the first two rounds. While Woods said the tricky conditions had a lot to do with the difference in his score, he said he made a few mistakes that cost him shots.
That included three-putt bogeys at the 13th and 15th. "I'm pleased at having the lead, I'm not real pleased with the way I putted today," Woods said. "Obviously 13, three-putting there from six, seven feet, and three-putting 15 as well -- I left a few out there today." The bogey at 15 didn't hurt Woods as much as it might have, since Johnson ended up with a double-bogey after hitting into the water hazard.
In fact, eight found the water at the 15th, and three of them found it twice. "I thought Zach hit it perfect," Woods said of his playing partner's tee shot at 15. "He hit a little cut five-iron and it was right on the flag. "I thought it was the perfect flight to get there. Ended up just shy, obviously." Johnson said both of his double-bogeys were the result of mis-clubs.
"But I was committed to them and I hit them solid. So it was unfortunate in that regard," he said. Although his score could have been lower, Johnson said birdies at 16 and 18 had him in position to challenge for the USD 1 million top prize in a tournament in which he has twice finished runner-up.
He and Woods dueled for the title in 2011, when Woods birdied the last two holes to erase a one-shot deficit and beat Johnson by one stroke. That was the most recent of Woods's five victories in the tournament he hosts for the benefit of his charitable foundation, and it ended a two-year victory drought.