OAKMONT, Pa. - For his umpteenth tap-in putt of the day, Tiger Woods leaned way over, his feet spread wide, his knees knocking one against the other, and did a perfect Arnold Palmer impersonation on the 18th green at Oakmont Country Club yesterday.
This is western Pennsylvania, Palmer country, the home of Arnie's Army. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, no explanation, really, other than that the world's No. 1 golfer was ticked off as he wrapped up a 1-under-par 69 with a bogey in the third round of the 107th United States Open.
But there may have been some symbolism, too. Arnie was the original swashbuckler, the man known for hitching up his slacks and going for broke and charging to victory. In 1960, at Cherry Hills near Denver, Palmer was six shots behind going to the final round of the Open. He drove the first green, charged like a madman and won.
Tiger Woods has captured 12 major championships, more than The King ever imagined winning. But he has never captured a major title without at least owning a share of the lead entering the final round.
Will that change today? Will he finally sound the charge?
Woods is two shots behind Aaron Baddeley entering play today and the most talented player in the world will pair up with one of the most promising players in the world in the final group off the No. 1 tee.
Tiger hit the first 17 greens in regulation yesterday, a masterful performance to say the least under such punitive conditions, but missed the fairway, the green and the par on No. 18 when his 14-foot putt burned the right edge of the cup and refused to drop. It was far from the first time that had happened to him.
"Obviously, it could have been really low, but on these greens, for as many opportunities, I probably had, what, three putts that I could have made," Woods said. "I hit a lot of good putts that grazed the edge. I'd be miffed at myself if I hit bad putts, but I hit good ones and that's just the way it goes. I put myself right there in the tournament, right there in the mix. I'm right there."
Indeed. So are a lot of folks. Woods is just one of eight players within four shots of the leader. But this is on a course where it is easy to give away ground and hard to gain any.
After owning a brief, three-shot lead, Baddeley was heading in the wrong direction with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 15 and 16. But he hit two wonderful shots at No. 18 and drained a 14-footer for birdie, giving him that little extra cushion heading to the final round.
"Tiger is the best player in the world," Baddeley said. "But I feel like I'm playing well, my swing is good, my game is nice. I'm going to enjoy it."
Rarely do Woods' playing partners have that type of experience in the final rounds of majors. But most of them have been doing the chasing. Not this time.
"When he's leading or close to the lead, Tiger is the favorite and everybody is picking him," said ex-Open champ Jim Furyk, who finished birdie-birdie for a 70, even par, and trails by four strokes. "And most of the guys that are playing against him have their eye on him. But these are all good players with tournament experience.
"Geoff Ogilvy hadn't won a major either, but he was clutch down the stretch at the Open last year. There are a lot of guys with experience who are hungry. When Tiger's playing well he's hard to beat, and I certainly respect his game and how he plays. But Oakmont can jump up and bite anyone at anytime. There are a lot of guys out here who think they can hit 17 greens and shoot in the 60s. Maybe one of us will do it."
Maybe one of them will have to.
"I felt like I was in control of my game today, which is a nice feeling on a Saturday afternoon at the Open," Woods said.
We will see what Sunday brings.
And what about the putting stance on No. 18? Was it a little salute to Arnie for the home folks?
"No," Tiger said. "I was [ticked]. I didn't like ending with a dropped shot."
Who does? OK, so it had nothing to do with Palmer. Go figure.
But he'd be delighted to finally mount one of Arnie's charges today. And there would be no better place than Oakmont to do it.
Contact Blade sports columnist
Dave Hackenberg at:
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