BETHESDA, Md. (AP) – A mammoth gallery watched tournament host Tiger Woods make par on 15 of 18 holes, a round that was inches away from being something spectacular.
A much thinner crowd – as in, “C’mon, there’s plenty of space along the ropes” – followed the day’s final group and witnessed an eventful round from Stuart Appleby, who roller-coastered his way to a two-stroke lead Saturday over K.J. Choi with one round to play at the AT&T National.
Woods, meanwhile, rued what could have been. Putt after putt missed by just inches – a 37-footer at No. 2, a 6-footer at No. 3, a 21-footer at No. 13, a 14-footer at No. 14. The result was a 69 that gave him a 208 total and tied for eighth – seven shots off the lead.
“I turned a 63 or 64 into a 69 very smoothly,” Woods said.
That’s no exaggeration. Woods had six birdie putts that stopped less than a foot from the hole, and two more that settled less than 2 feet away.
Appleby shot 2-under 68 on a hot and humid afternoon at Congressional Country Club. For every breathtaking iron shot – such as the approach to 5 feet at No. 3 – there was a hole such as No. 12, when the Aussie found the rough with his tee shot and three-putted for a bogey.
Appleby’s round included five birdies, three bogeys and par saves such as the nervy 10-foot putt at the 18th, a change of pace from the steady play that had put him in a tie for the lead after two rounds.
He had only two bogeys in his first 36 holes – fewest in the field – yet his erratic third round nevertheless left him with a 9-under 201 total and on pace for his ninth PGA Tour victory and first of 2007. He’s come close once this year, when he led the Masters after three rounds and finished tied for seventh.
Woods’ frustration showed at No. 18, when he had his only bogey of the day. He made two angry swipes with his club after driving his tee shot into the left rough. His only birdies came at Nos. 1 and 16 – and the 20-footer at the first hole was his longest made putt of the day.
“He played fantastic tee-to-green and really seemed to putt well – and holed nothing,” said Kevin Stadler, who also shot a 69 and remained tied with Woods. “I’m sure he’ll be excited looking forward to tomorrow because if he had another inch it would have been 62, 63, or 64.”
At least the fans who were following got to see a hole-in-one – that came from Stadler, Woods’ playing partner.
Appleby and Choi were at 7 under when the day began, and they toiled in a relatively relaxed atmosphere compared to the throngs that cheered and moaned a few groups ahead with Woods, who is attracting even more than his usual hoopla as he hosts his own tournament for the first time.
Choi was five shots behind Appleby following a bogey at the 14th, but the South Korean birdied the next three holes to finish with a 70.
Steve Stricker (67) was three shots behind Appleby in third place, one shot ahead of fourth-place Mike Weir (67).